(Andy Synn returns with another round-up of albums from last month which he feels didn’t get the attention they deserve)
October was so busy that I’m probably going to end up doing a second “Things You May Have Missed” column next week, simply because there’s so many albums I wanted to write about (and hopefully introduce you to) that I didn’t get chance to.
And that’s not even taking into account the fact that in the last week of the month alone saw a bunch of “big name” bands – from Mastodon (bloated but brilliant) and Be’lakor (a gloomy grower) to Ghost Bath (still searching for an identity that hasn’t been done better by other bands) and Whitechapel (continuing their “evolution” into a mid-tier mid-2000s Metalcore act), and more – releasing their eagerly anticipated new albums.
So, with all that in mind, I probably shouldn’t waste any more time with this intro and would be better off just getting stuck right in to the nitty gritty of these four, highly recommend (by me, at least) records.
ANTI RITUAL – EXPEL THE LEECHES
Unlike my waffling introduction to this article, Anti Ritual don’t waste time beating around the bush on Expel the Leeches (their debut album), as the album’s intro track only lasts a mere 38 scene-setting seconds before the manic riffage and pounding drums of the title-track unleash hell on the unsuspecting listener.
If you’re looking to prep yourself for this auditory onslaught then what you can expect to hear on this album is ten short-but-savage (none of them lasting longer than four minutes, with several barely clearing the two minute mark) bursts of blistering Blackened Hardcore that land somewhere between Wiegedood and Earth Crisis.
And while the whole album only runs a little over half-an-hour in length, the group still pack in a surprising (and pleasing) amount of variety throughout, whether that’s by playing into the punkier and/or grindier side of thing on tracks like “Futile Semantics” and “Marginalize Yourself” (think Nails meets Martyrdöd), or by elevating their love of electrifying blackened tremolo to an art form during songs such as “The Oppressive Weight” and “What Will We Tell Our Children”, both of which recall a more stripped-down variant of Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s signature melodic menace.
But even though the band clearly wear their influences on their sleeves – I doubt I’ll be the only one to hear hints of Napalm Death in the go-for-the-throat gallop-and-blast of “No Human Is Illegal”, or to recognise that the absolutely massive “Guillotine” shares some key strands of DNA with both Dödsrit and Disfear – they weave them all together so tightly, and so intensely, that you’ll probably still struggle to pick them apart.
Hell, they even incorporate some inspiration from the darker, crustier end of the Post-Metal spectrum on some tracks – including the fantastically-titled “Necrocapitalism” and cathartic closer “Franchise Coffee Bars & Internment Camps” – but do so in an impressively organic way, whether in the form of the former’s use of moody melody and nimble, nuanced percussion, or the latter’s knife-edge balance between brooding atmosphere and bleeding aggression.
And speaking of aggression… make no mistake about it, this is an angry, angry album… but it’s anger with a purpose, and a direction, every song absolutely brimming with righteous indignation and seething discontent, from a band who clearly have no intent of pulling their punches or mincing their words.
OPHIS – SPEW FORTH ODIUM
So this is my first encounter with the works of German Death/Doom demons Ophis, but I can tell you that it’s highly unlikely to be my last (in fact I’ve already got them pencilled in for a future edition of The Synn Report so I can dig deeper into their discography).
Clocking in at an imposing sixty-three (almost sixty-four) minutes in total, these six songs manage to be as dynamic as they are absolutely devastating, proving that just because you’re playing – primarily at least – at a crushing crawl, there’s still more than one way to choke the life from your audience.
Take opener “Default Empty”, which begins with the sort of morbidly melancholy melody that even Paradise Lost would have to admit is pretty damn bleak (as well as surprisingly beautiful) before transitioning into a cruel, claustrophobic chug that practically bleeds tension and dread, all building to a mournful ambient anti-crescendo.
But even though the song is nine minutes long, it doesn’t feel drawn out, largely because the band have packed it with a wealth of subtle tricks and twists (especially in the underrated drum work) and vile vocal hooks, which keep your attention primed throughout, even as the track progresses, slowly but surely, from moody melody to heaving density, and back again, in an elegant ebb and flow of sound and fury.
This shivering, spine-tilling tension between ugly, oppressive heaviness and eerie melodic misery is, of course the central theme, the guiding light if you will, of the album, and it’s actually pretty impressive how many ways the quartet find to expand upon and explore this central theme, whether that’s in the brooding, oppressive strains of “Of Stygian Descent”, the much more aggressive and Death Metal driven “Conflagration Eternal”, or the soul-scarring Doom of “The Perennial Wound” – all of which showcase a slightly different facet of the band’s identity.
Intriguingly, despite (or because of) the fact that Spew Forth Odium is a rather lengthy and unforgiving affair, it’s the longer songs – such as the aforementioned “Conflagration Eternal”, the hypnotically hooky “Temple of Scourges” (arguably the catchiest song on the entire album), and the monumental final track, “The Stagnant Room” – which actually make the biggest impression, as each of them demonstrates just how much variety (and venom) the band can pack into their music while remaining true to their bleak and brooding Death/Doom core.
It’s “The Stagnant Room”, however, which is the album’s undeniable piece de resistance, drawing out the atmosphere and ambience to near breaking point before unleashing a deathly torrent of doom and gloom to bring the record to a phenomenal finale.
I’ll grant you, the very nature of the album (and it’s demanding length) is going to mean it won’t be for everyone, but this is one I highly recommend to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the doomier end of the Death Metal spectrum… or the deathlier side of the Doom Metal scale!
PROPHETIC SCOURGE – GNOSIS – A SORROWER’S ODYSSEY
Brutal French death-dealers Prophetic Scourge are the one album in this column that I have actually written about before, and you can check out my short-but-sweet review of their debut album, Calvary, right here.
As you can see, at the time I compared their particular brand of proggy/techy brutality to Gorod, Anata, and Dying Fetus – all of which is high praise in my book – and those comparisons largely still hold true on Gnosis.
That being said, the band’s second album is more than a simple replication/regurgitation of their first… in fact it’s a major improvement in pretty much every way!
Heavier, tighter, hookier, with a great grasp of when/where to deploy some proggy melody and a keen sense of when/where to simply drop the hammer, it’s the sort of record that’s easy to hum and/or headbang along to, even as you marvel at the group’s obvious technical gifts.
And while the band’s instrumental abilities are definitely nothing to sniff at – bassist Thibault Claude and drummer Jon Erviti in particular absolutely shine throughout the record, especially on early highlight “The Cyclops”, where they get the opportunity to show off both their proggier and groovier chops – Prophetic Scourge are clearly smart enough not to just rely on technical flash to carry the day.
As a result they’re locked and loaded their music with enough heavyweight hooks and rampaging riffs to bring down a charging rhinoceros, especially during the central one-two of “The Fury” and “The Psychopomp”, which demonstrate some distinctive Decapitated-esque tendencies (especially the former) in their dense rhythms and devastating delivery.
Sure, the album is a little bloated (wile “The Mendicant” definitely has its moments, its probably the most obvious candidate for the cutting room floor), and occasionally still a little too indebted to its influences, but the band have energy and aggression to spare, all of which helps propel their music through every twisted technical contortion or sudden, staccato rhythmic shift without losing any of their impressive intensity and momentum.
This is most obvious during titanic closer “The Tyrant”, which runs to more than sixteen stunning minutes but, due to a combination of absolutely punishing execution and perfectly-executed ambition, feels like less than half that.
It’s easily the best song on the album – one that lives and breathes and moves like a true organic monstrosity – and so I exhort you, if you only listen to one track from Gnosis, make it this one!
VILE AESTHETIC – TO BLOOM AND FLOURISH FROM UTTER ROT
One of the best ways to help ensure that your debut album is successful is to keep things short and sweet, trim the fat, and focus only on the meatiest, bloodiest, and most delectable of metallic morsels.
And it’s a lesson that Colorado-based Black Metal duo Vile Aesthetic have clearly taken to heart on their debut album, To Bloom and Flourish From Utter Rot, as not only do the record’s six songs collectively only run to just over thirty-two minutes, but it’s eminently clear that a lot of time has been invested into giving each of them their own distinct identity, rather than having them simply be an interchangeable blast-fest.
Opener “Impetuous Void”, for example, is a blistering bone-rattler that isn’t afraid to take its foot off the gas now and then to allow the band (and their fans) a chance to catch their breath before the next eruption of blackened fury, while the title-track pushes the overall aggression and antagonism a little higher even as it shows off a little bit more groove, and a little bit more melody, at key moments.
“Dispositional Plague” is perhaps the album’s best song (so far, at least), perfectly blending seething melody and scorching intensity – along with some cruelly catchy, creepily cadaverous vocals – whereas “Genocide and Conversion” shifts things in slightly punkier, subtly doomier, direction for five solid minutes.
And while “Regressional Mass” is an almost-unrelenting, blast-fuelled mauler which also delves into some surprisingly nuanced melodic depths and gruesomely grimy grooves now and then, closer “Abstract Divine” is altogether moodier and more morbid, with a greater emphasis on layers of bleak, brooding guitar work and slithering, serpentine bass lines.
But even though each of the six tracks is more than capable of standing alone, they are all equally important as part of the greater whole, and clearly share some recognisable elements, and influences, which help tie the album together.
The riffs, for example, while varied in both pace and delivery across the entire length of the record, possess a sense of both melody and dissonance reminiscent of the highly-underrated Hæthen, as well as a gift for delivering some seriously Gorgoroth-esque grooves when the occasion calls for it.
Going one step further, I’d probably even go so far as to say that at full-blast (no pun intended) Vile Aesthetic often recall a rougher, rawer version of Woe or a more brutish version of Funeral Mist (especially with regards to the album’s undulating bass work and vile, venom-spewing vocals), which is high praise indeed if you’re at all familiar with either of these two bands (and if you’re not then you’ve got some learning to do, don’t you?).
So even though Vile Aesthetic may be a devilishly dark band, it seems to me that they have a very bright future ahead of them. Ones to watch, that’s for certain.