Falls of Rauros
(We’ve reached the end of another month, and thus Gonzo has surfaced with another edition of this column, focusing here on five releases from March 2022.)
I recently made the somewhat ill-advised decision to take a road trip to my old stompin’ grounds of Seattle from my Denver abode. For those not familiar with the length of the trek, it’s about 21 hours by car. Flying out was definitely an option, but there’s always something uniquely appealing about pointing your car in one direction and flooring it for hours on end. If we’re speaking honestly, it’s downright therapeutic.
The “ill-advised” part of the equation came into account when driving through northern Wyoming and Montana. March is not what you’d call a calm month in terms of weather, and there were a couple of parts along desolate highways in which I was white knuckling my way through a snowstorm. There was madness in every direction. Unfettered chaos was all there was for hundreds of miles; one Subaru was a drop in the bucket amid endless 18-wheelers and highway patrol cars.
The good part about all this? I got plenty of time to delve into every album I’d been putting off for a while, and even got surprised by some other stuff I stumbled into.
Falls of Rauros, Key to a Vanishing Future
I’ve never been one to gravitate much toward the “Dungeons & Dragons” subgenre of metal. A lot of it tends to be fun in concept and much less so in practice, and too often it ultimately ends up becoming a caricature of itself.
I know what you’re thinking – the Portland, ME blackened folk metal outfit known as Falls of Rauros hardly fit that description. And you’d be right. It’s been my fault for associating them with that subgenre for too long. I’ve listened to some of their previous work and it never really grabbed me. That, coupled with their name being derived from a waterfall in Lord of the Rings, was enough to make me dismiss the band as “not my cup of mead” in an already-saturated scene.
After listening to Key to a Vanishing Future at least 12 times since its release last week, I’ve thrown all of that bullshit thinking to the wind. This is a brilliantly layered piece of music, with extreme attention to detail going into every measure of every song.
Opener “Clarity” begins innocuously enough before rolling into a Wayfarer-style mid-tempo blackened assault. “Desert of Heart” follows with a punchy, groovy bassline that underscores beautiful lead fretwork, with the band playing with the time signature and structure to an intriguing extent. Even with all this, the music never feels too idealistic or inaccessible.
And be sure not to sleep on closing tracks “Daggers in Floodlight,” with its Opeth-like layers, and “Poverty Hymn,” a heart-wrenching atmospheric black metal gem.
Drug Church, Hygiene
When going through the lists of monthly releases to put together for this column, I admittedly try to pick at least one that might make readers tilt their heads and think “what the fuck?” This album might not be completely unconventional in the truest sense of the word, but for our purposes at NCS, the newest release from New Yorkers Drug Church might be a curveball.
The band’s sound is a deliciously infectious crossroads of Fucked Up, Helmet, Nothing, and Turnstile. It’s almost like you could slice one particular element from each of those bands to create the angsty, acerbic formula that makes up Drug Church. There’s also something distinctly nostalgic about listening to Hygiene; it’s the kind of record I would’ve bought in the ’90s after spending hours perusing the shelves at Tower Records.
Tracks like “Fun’s Over” and “Super Saturated” further cement that feeling – they’re hooky, heavy, and demand another listen the second they end. “Plucked” and “Million Miles of Fun” turn up the heaviness a notch, but still sound like something you’d hear on the radio while you’re full of teen angst as you begrudgingly drag your ass to another day of the hell that was high school.
Mind Imperium, Nemesis
I’m not sure what rock Mind Imperium have been hiding under, but the release of Nemesis might force them out from under it.
With this album, these French groove wizards have conjured an eight-song monolith of pulverization. Though it’s hard to leave “metalcore” out of the words I’d use to describe their sound – frontman/guitarist Nogh lays down some serious pit-ready riffs and has a throaty roar that bears a similarity to Jamey Jasta – the music is far from the verse/chorus/breakdown formula that ends up repeating itself too goddamn many times in modern metalcore. Frankly, it bores the shit out of me.
Instead, Mind Imperium show that they’re just as skilled in building atmosphere as they are in going for the jugular. When the sledgehammer of the chorus hits in “Screaming Out Your Name,” you feel it. The momentum the band wields is fine-tuned and calculated. The tension that follows in “Burning Embers” is deliciously satisfying, with a rumbling bassline that pushes up the intensity like a pot that’s boiling over.
Grand Harvest, Consummatum Est
It just wouldn’t be a heavy roundup without at least one addition from Sweden, would it?
Apparently, all the stereotypes are true – three decades after The Red in the Sky is Ours, Skydancer, Left Hand Path, and way too many others to accurately account for, there’s always some new heavy-ass audial blasphemy emerging from the motherland of melodeath. The latest I’ve stumbled on is this ferocious new offering from Grand Harvest.
Consummatum Est rips and shreds its way through some old-school Gothenburg melodic death metal but adds a few new-school layers that fit the bill nicely. Doomier passages on tracks like “No Paler a Horse” show off the band’s songwriting chops, with the vocalist known as “Dr. Hall” sneering and snarling in a uniquely discernable tone. Other tracks like “As the Vultures Descend” recall Paradise Lost in their newest incarnation, while “Fatehammer” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Bolt Thrower or Dismember record.
Grand Harvest are relative newcomers to this scene, but this could very well be the album that sends them up a notch.
Absent in Body, Plague God
When I first saw a promo for this new collaboration between Scott Kelly, Iggor Cavalera, and Mathieu and Colin from Amenra, that was all I needed to be immediately intrigued. After hearing the song “Sarin” when it was released as a single a short time later, my intrigue turned to fandom. I was originally going to write a separate standalone review for Plague God, but life got in the way, as it’s often prone to doing.
With its brooding, menacing tone and sinister guitars that sound like they were recorded by Justin Broadrick in the early 90s, “Sarin” is only a small sample of what you get with the rest of Plague God. There might only be five tracks on the record, but it almost becomes an act of mercy that there’s not more to unpack here. That’s not to say there shouldn’t be more, of course, but that what’s on here is so dense you’d need a fucking shovel to dig through any more of it. Maybe a pneumatic drill.
This is metal played by musicians who aren’t afraid to explore how deep the depths of sonic hypnosis can go. Right from the start with “Rise from Ruins,” the searing combination of terrifying vocals that sound like they were lifted from a summoning chant for some deep-sea Lovecraftian abomination, tempos that take their time like a serial killer stalking his target for the inevitable kill, and production that might as well have been recorded in the Marianas Trench, Absent in Body have struck a very specific nerve. And I have a distinct feeling they’re only getting started.
Want to hear all this shit in one place? I keep my Best of ’22 playlist updated regularly, and every band you’ve read about here is on it – in addition to bits from every other monthly column I’ve done, as well as some other stuff thrown in because I feel like it: