(Last month was so busy that Andy Synn is still trying to catch up on all the things he, and we, missed)
Look, I told you last week that I was probably going to have to do two editions of “Things You May Have Missed” in order to catch up with the many, many artists and albums which were overlooked in October… so here we are.
Truthfully though, I could really do with doing at least one more edition after this was, such was the plethora of rifftastic riches which last month gave us, but if I want to stay on top of what’s being released this month then I really can’t spend any more time looking backwards.
Thankfully the four albums I’ve chosen to feature here are more than worth me sacrificing a bit more of my previous time in order to ensure they get (some of) the attention they deserve, so let’s not waste a moment more, shall we?
ARDE – ANCESTRAL CULT
German quintet Arde definitely have “it”. And while I can’t necessarily put into words what “it” actually is, one listen to their recently-released second album, Ancestral Cult, should be enough to convince you that they have “it” in spades.
The band’s sound is a confident, cathartic form of “Atmospheric” Black Metal which doesn’t let the brooding atmosphere overwhelm or supplant the blackened intensity of the music, and while comparisons to Wolves In The Throne Room and/or Woman is the Earth would certainly be valid – if a little obvious – to my mind, and my ears, the elemental electricity and single-minded focus of tracks like “The Birth Portal” and “Halls of Ostara” much more closely recalls a more organic and introspective version of The Great Old Ones.
The former track starts off as a sombre slow-burner before bursting into blistering, blast-driven life, which in turn settles into an aggressive, up-tempo groove as the song continues to build both atmosphere and momentum, while the latter has an even darker, almost doomier feel (something which is enhanced by the subtle, but indispensable, bass work rumbling away just beneath the surface), even as it develops into an even more aggressive assault on the senses than its predecessor.
The album is split neatly in two by a short, but sublime, mid-album acoustic interlude named “Sile”, which finds the band going full Panopticon for a few moments, before the storming strains of “The Birch” – arguably the most intense and immersive track yet – which inundates your eardrums in a deluge of seething distortion and cascading melodies that seem to seep through your skin and sink into your bones.
Last, but by no means least, “Vesica Piscis” ends the album on an even darker, more dramatic, note, every punishing passage of rolling, rippling snare and scarred, snarling vocals entwined in in a twisted caul of malevolently melodic tremolo riffs and interspersed with moments of haunting, doom-laden beauty.
Don’t get me wrong, Arde haven’t exactly reinvented the wheel here, but if bands who treat Black Metal as an art, and atmosphere as just one vital thread in a much greater tapestry, are your thing, then you owe it to yourself to check this album out.
A SECRET REVEALED – WHEN THE DAY YEARNS FOR LIGHT
As someone who has been a fan of German Post-Metal maestros A Secret Revealed for quite a while now, I have to admit, even I didn’t see the band’s transition to this more violent, visceral, and venomous version of their signature sound coming.
Maybe I should have though. After all, these are desperate, divisive, and often depressing times for many of us, so it only stands to reason that a band like ASR would respond in kind by getting heavier, harsher, and more aggressive.
And, heck, it’s not even as if this is entirely new territory for them, as 2019’s Sacrifices definitely had its nastier, blastier moments.
Still, even that didn’t prepare me for the sheer maelstrom of sound and fury unleashed on When the Day Yearns For Light, beginning with the blast ‘n’ groove, ground ‘n’ pound attack of “As I Watch You Perish”, and then moving, in swift succession, through the lurching heaviness and lambent melodies of “No Shelter. No Hope.”, the crusty, blackened belligerence of “With Blind Apathy”, and the jagged riffs of “In Shoals”.
And while I know that some people have said that the album’s heightened aggression and overwhelming edge-of-your-seat intensity has come at the cost of some of the group’s normal dynamic, personally I find that, by pushing the envelope towards a more extreme sound, ASR have actually widened the scope of their sound, as these tracks still contain a multitude of moody, atmospheric passages, punchy, punky rhythms, and propulsive, Post-Hardcore inspired riffs alongside the band’s increased love of blasting drums and blackened rage.
Arguably saving the album’s best until last, the climactic trio of “Rotten” (arguably the record’s best, or at least most intense, song), “The Arsonist”, and “Monument of Guilt” not only end things on a high note, but firmly establish the band as more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as similar Blackened/Post/Crust Metal underground legends like Downfall of Gaia, Dödsrit, and King Apathy (RIP), to the point where I, for one, would absolutely love to see them out on tour with the former two acts. What a show that would be.
Until then though, we’ll all just have to satisfy ourselves with spinning When the Day Yearns For Light the next time we want to give both our ears, and our emotions, a serious sonic sandblasting.
SLOW CRUSH – HUSH
It is well known, or at least it should be by now, that I am a real sucker for the sort of shimmering, shoegaze-influenced sound of bands like Junius, Alcest, Lantlôs, etc.
So it’s no surprise that I fell, and fell hard, for the second album by Belgium’s Slow Crush as soon as I heard it, as while it definitely errs even more towards the Shoegaze-y/Post-Rock-y end of the spectrum than the bands name-checked above, there’s still a rich, reflective darkness to the album, equal parts doomy and dreamy, that should make it sufficiently attractive to many of our readers and not just me.
There’s a brooding, restrained heaviness to “Blue”, for example, which recalls the dynamic Post-Doom of Close the Hatch, while “Swoon” has a noisy, punky energy reminiscent of fellow Belgians Brutus, and “Lull” could easily have fit on the new Chrome Waves album (and considering that all three of these bands have been featured here before, and received an extremely positive response, this bodes well for Slow Crush’s ability to appeal to our regular audience).
Continuing in this vein, there’s a gloomy presence to the guitars on “Swivel” which, when juxtaposed against Isa Holiday’s gorgeous, gossamer vocals, gives the track a captivating light-and-shade dynamic somewhere between Post-Rock, Post-Metal, and Post-Hardcore, and much the same could be said for the cinematic, Junius-esque title track, which to my ears vies with the aforementioned “Lull” for the title of “best song on the album”.
But even at its most delicate and dream-like – such as the melancholy melodic ambience of “Gloom” or the lilting rhythms and intimate introspection of “Rêve” – I still feel like Slow Crush has what it takes to appeal to a lot of our regular readers, considering I know that a lot of them appreciate music that isn’t particularly “heavy” (because, let’s face it, “heavy” isn’t the same as “good”).
I’ll grant you, however, that the ending of Hush is a little anticlimactic – especially following on from the outstanding pairing of “Hush” and “Lull” – but that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying and appreciating it, on several levels, and hopefully you’ll all be able to do the same if/when you choose to give this record a chance.
TOWARD THE THRONE – VOWED TO DECLINE
I’m sure we’re all aware that it’s been a ridiculously busy year for Death Metal – especially of the Old School and Technical varieties – but, I must admit, I’ve not really found much from the more “Melodic” end of the spectrum that’s really grabbed me.
And while French foursome Toward the Throne might bristle a little bit at being referred to as “Melodic Death Metal” (they seem to prefer the term “Atmospheric Death Metal”, which feels like a bit of a stretch to me) their debut album is one of the few records from that particular area that’s actually caught my ear over the course of the last eleven months.
What you get on Vowed to Decline is eleven tracks of sharp, choppy riffage, lithe, melodic leads, and synthy, pseudo-symphonic elements (which account for much of the vaunted “atmosphere” of the music) whose musical DNA features a bit of Before the Dawn here, a dash of Dimmu there, and a helping of Hypocrisy too, as well as a host of other recognisable elements and influences.
But while this, obviously, means that Toward the Throne aren’t the most unique band out there (the first few tracks are particularly reminiscent of MIA Melodic Death Metallers Zonaria), they still execute this metallic melange of styles in an impressively efficient and effective way, rarely putting a foot out of place or letting a song drag on past its optimum length.
The best moments, however, come when the band embrace both their proggier proclivities and more blackened instincts simultaneously, with songs like “The Ashes of Pain”, “Still Denial”, and “The Sorrow” showcasing a much more ambitious and creative sense of dynamic – frequently reminiscent of latter-day In Vain in the way it moves smoothly between barrages of scalding blastbeats, passages of punchy riffing, and snippets of sombre acoustics – that many of the record’s shorter, thrashier numbers don’t quite possess.
It’s a solid debut, make no mistake, with some clear highlights, and one which gives the band a firm foundation on which to build in the future.
So I think we should all agree to keep an eye on these guys as they move forwards toward bigger and (hopefully) better things. Because they’ve got a lot of potential, and I’m intrigued to see where they go from here.
Great stuff Andy, I had indeed missed all of these. Arde right up my street for atmoblack.
That’s some seriously clanky bass on the Secret Revealed LP, always got time for that sound. Getting some King Apathy vibes on initial listen which is no bad thing and a Downfall of Gaia ref will always interest me. Off to bandcamp I go!
Always good to see comments like this. Makes it all worth it!
And I believe the bass on that ASR album would count as “thicc”.