(Andy Synn puts one final bullet in the corpse of 2021 with one last edition of “Unsung Heroes”)
I suppose it’s about time to stop looking backwards and start looking forwards at what the upcoming year has to offer us.
However, before that, I thought I’d take this chance to do one last “Unsung Heroes” post about three bands – all of whom were new discoveries for me – that I think you all need to check out, if you know what’s good for you!
ANKERKERIA – MATRIARCH
It’s a well-worn cliché by now that 2021 was a crazy year for Technical Death Metal. But while bands like Archspire and First Fragment understandably dominated the headlines, there was also a heap of smaller and less well-known names that really deserved much more attention, such as Hatalom (CA), Prophetic Scourge (FR), and Ankerkeria (BR)… and it’s the latter’s debut album, Matriarch, which I want to talk about today.
Less overtly flashy (though not lacking in shreddy skills) than some of the more famous names from last year, Ankerkeria‘s particular brand of Technical Death Metal puts more of a focus on the “Death Metal” part of the equation, erring closer to the sound of a band like Revocation at their darkest and deathliest, with perhaps a dash of latter-day Anata thrown in for good measure (though, to be clear, they’re not quite that good… yet).
They are damn good though, no doubt about it, and have a real knack for marrying heaviness and hookiness without compromising on either.
Opener “Baph Metra”, for example, balances its hefty, heaving riffage with just the right amount of moody melody and nimble-fingered technicality, after which “Mother of Horrors” ups the ante with some even heavier guitar work and even more intense drumming, all woven together in aggressive, attention-grabbing style.
Other highlights include the frenetic “Lord of Flies” (which blends some smartly progressive, Revocation-esque riffage with an unexpectedly “blackened” second half), the chugging, churning “Decerebrate”, and the insanely-infectious riff-frenzy of “Blessed Be They Shame”, but the truth is that almost all of these tracks (with only “Feeding the Fools” and “Widow” not quite living up to their early initial promise) hit their mark, and hit it hard.
It also helps, of course, that vocalist Joice Lopes possesses one seriously visceral (not to mention versatile) growl/shriek/snarl, and that bombastic bassist Alessandra Castro might just be the band’s not-so-secret weapon, but the truth is that this is a clear case of an entire band working in near-perfect harmony to deliver an extremely impressive statement of intent their very first time out.
BLACK KNIFE – MURDER SEASON
They say you shouldn’t judge a book – or, in this case, an album – by its cover but… come on! That’s a goat-headed man in a leather jacket, licking a bloody knife in front of a burning church full of walking skeletons. How can it NOT be awesome?
Clocking in at just under half an hour, Murder Season (which is a hell of an album title, let me tell you) is made up of eleven tracks (well, ten plus an intro) of punchy, piss ‘n’ vinegar Black Metal Punk (as the band themselves, not inaccurately, describe their music), that lands somewhere between Motörhead and Mayhem, Venom and Sodom, Discharge and Darkthrone.
The grooves are absolutely murderous (especially during the title-track and the swaggering “Satan’s Wolves”), the riffs are reckless and raucous (“They Kill At Night” in particular is a real neck-wrecker), and the hooks are delectably dirty and infectious (to the point where it’s a toss-up between “My Knife In Your Skull” and “Feed the Beast” over which is the nastiest, catchiest, track on the record).
But it’s the band’s attitude – authentically, anthemically pissed-off and not afraid to show it, even while they’re still willing to have a little fun with it – which really carries this album, as you can tell that beneath all the bullet-belts and brimstone, d-beats and devil-worship, Black Knife are the real, raw deal.
LUNAR ARK – RECURRING NIGHTMARE
Lunar Ark are/were one of the bands I was most disappointed in myself for failing to write about, as their debut album is absolutely brimming with potential and ambition.
Comprising three monolithically massive and morbidly heavy pieces of music, Recurring Nightmare sits (or, possibly, wallows) at the nexus point between suffocating Sludge, dramatic Doom, and poignant Post-Metal, which allows each track to change shape – sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically – at key moments in order to keep the listener on their toes.
And considering the fact that the shortest of the three songs, opener “Torch and Spear”, is almost thirteen minutes long, while the titanic closer clocks in at nearly twenty, the task of keeping their audience engrossed and engaged was never going to be as easy as if, say, the band had simply written a bunch of shorter, catchier cuts.
Thankfully, however, even at this early stage in their career, Lunar Ark seem more than up to the challenge, balancing the heaving, hypnotically heavy riffs and harrowing vocals of the former track with carefully placed passages of claustrophobic ambience and/or scintillating melody which help to serve and preserve the song’s ever-shifting dynamic, after which the even more demanding (but arguably even more rewarding) transitions from doom-laden melodrama to utterly apocalyptic atmosphere over the course of just under seventeen suffocatingly murky minutes.
Saving the best for last, “Guillotine” is equal parts dream and nightmare, comprising some of the heaviest, and most haunting, moments on the entire disc, and puts me in mind, at different points, of both Altar of Plagues and Amenra (which, obviously, is high praise indeed).
So don’t miss out on this one, as these guys have a lot of potential, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see/hear them start to make some tsunami-sized waves in the Post/Sludge scene in years to come.