(With another month now in the history books, we welcome back Gonzo, who again has recommendations for you of wide-ranging albums released in the preceding month – somewhat delayed only because our editor completely lost track of time while at Maryland Deathfest.)
When doing the legwork that goes into these monthly columns, there are some months when I have to reach deep into the metal underbelly to extract whatever hidden gems I stumble across, and there are others where the onslaught of new releases just looks downright overwhelming and perhaps menacing.
May turned out to be the latter. I actually had to trim this one down from what I had originally planned out, if for no other reason than the fact that I’m disappearing into the mountains for most of the weekend without many plans to be in front of a computer. Fuck that nonsense, I say. I get enough of that during my 9-5 job, and any excuse to hit the road for an escape is a good one.
Read on and prepare to abuse your eardrums with the best of what I stumbled into through May.
Nechochwen, Kanawha Black
I’ve had my eyes on West Virginia’s Nechochwen for a while now; their upcoming appearance at this summer’s Fire in the Mountains festival is one I’m very much looking forward to seeing. They’ve been pretty quiet on releases for a while – their last effort, Heart of Akamon, was released seven years ago, and I still remember how unique it sounded when compared to most of the other folk metal that was being released at the time. Maybe Eluvietie was the only other band that came close.
But let me tell you, if the absolutely fucking exhilarating first minute of the leadoff title track of Kanawha Black doesn’t hit your veins like a primal dose of adrenaline, you might wanna check your pulse. Nechochwen come out of the gates firing on all cylinders, led by a slashing riff and song structure that brings to mind Panopticon in their most rousing moments. Follow-up track “The Murky Deep” is one of those songs you have to listen to with headphones to catch the nuanced fretwork of classically trained guitarist Nechochwen himself, and “Generations of War” just makes me want to run through a wall.
I’ll just say it: From start to finish, this is an absolutely incredible album of modern folk metal that’s raised the bar for the genre.
Predatory Light, Death and the Twilight Hours
The newest album from the mysterious mind-bending Pittsburgh quartet answers the question “what would it sound like to listen to a choir of demons perform in a haunted church?”
Pretty fucking cool, as it turns out. With only four songs – and two of them topping the 10-minute mark – the potential for the band to get lost in their own maze of cavernous riffs and shifting tempos is very high. But the way they navigate this complex maze is what makes Death and the Twilight Hours such a strong album. The songs quickly unfurl their tentacles around you and lure you in, like a demonic presence beckoning from the darkest corners of the room. Was it your mind playing tricks on you, or when you stared into the void, was it actually staring back?
There are some hints of the same kind of madness Deathspell Omega is so proficient in crafting here, as well as some of that insidiously infectious songwriting of Negative Plane. When I first took this album for a spin, I didn’t look at the track listing. Imagine my surprise when the album had been on for almost 20 minutes and only two songs had been played. That’s the kind of immersive trip Predatory Light takes you on, and it’s one you won’t want to take only once.
Much has been written and said about the psychedelic drone of Italian power trio Ufomammut over their under-the-radar 20-year career, but it always seems like the band find a way to reinvent themselves with every record. Given that the title of this new album literally translates to “Phoenix” in Italian, it’s safe to say they haven’t bucked that trend.
Even now, Ufomammut’s back catalog always rewards the more patient listeners. With Fenice, listening to the hypnotic “Psychostasia” and how it creeps into a sludgy wall of sound from its subtle beginnings is exactly the kind of audial shapeshifting this band does best. From there, the crescendo of “Metamorphoenix” takes its time getting started, almost like you’re suddenly listening to a Cult of Luna intro. The album’s grand finale starts hitting with “Pyramid,” with a slow-burn riff under a backdrop of spacey ambient psychedelia. It’s weird as hell and makes zero apologies for being exactly what it is, rounding out the album in a way that only Ufomammut could do this well.
Fenice is a record that deserves multiple listens and rewards those who pay attention, even if it might not always be abundantly clear what’s happening.
Cave In, Heavy Pendulum
For many of us, this band needs no introduction – nor do I really need to delve into the tumultuous and tragic recent history of the band and the terrible loss of bassist Caleb Scofield a few years ago.
It is worth mentioning, though, that nobody would’ve blamed Cave In for calling it quits for good after that. The pandemic followed soon after Scofield left this world, and the band themselves even alluded to the seemingly inevitable end of the road with Final Transmission, a 2019 album that consisted of mostly demos that were never intended to be made public.
Fast forward three years, and Cave In have made an improbable metamorphosis with Heavy Pendulum. With Nate Newton of Old Man Gloom, Converge, and Doomriders fame taking Scofield’s post at bass, Heavy Pendulum is a tour-de-fucking-force that takes listeners on a journey through seemingly every incarnation of Cave In – from their vicious and auspicious beginnings of Until Your Heart Stops to the lighter (and maligned) later years of Jupiter and Antennae.
With the nasty metallic frenzies of “New Reality” and “Blood Spiller,” Heavy Pendulum comes out of the gate like a howitzer, with searing riffs and Newton’s harsh vocals juxtaposed against Stephen Brodsky’s clean singing. Featuring a whopping (by today’s standards) 14 tracks, the album goes all over the place sonically, but there isn’t much I’d call “filler” throughout. Interlude “Pendulambient” gives way to the big riffs in “Careless Offering,” which carries a chorus you’ll likely find stuck in your head afterwards.
Fair warning: If you’re expecting a full-blown return to Until Your Heart Stops, you might be disappointed. The middle of the album predominantly leans on less chaos and more towards cohesion, but that’s to take nothing away from how refreshed and fired-up the band sounds throughout. The rumbling basslines of “Amaranthine” punctuate one of my favorite heavier moments on Heavy Pendulum, and the rousing acoustic chorus of “Reckoning” might actually be the album’s strongest moment.
Cave In are back, improbably, and their return to form with Pendulum is seriously one of the strongest entries in their impressive career.
Wo Fat, The Singularity
We live in some weird fucking times these days, and Dallas’s Wo Fat would like to use their psyched-out stoner metal platform to remind you of that.
While it’s not a concept album in the purest sense of the word, The Singularity is a reaction to the, um, challenges humanity is up against in this foul year of our lord, 2022. I’ve been fairly lukewarm on the rest of the band’s output until this point, but I’ll be damned if The Singularity doesn’t make the apocalypse into a seriously addicting listen. “Orphans of the Singe” gets things going first, with Clutch-like riffs alongside socially conscious lyrics. It’s just under 14 minutes long, and I’ve always said that if you can keep a listener engaged after leading off your album with a track that long, you’re doing something right.
Stoner metal, though, is no stranger to long track-times with songs that take a deep, existential look in the mirror. In the case of The Singularity, “Orphans of the Siege” is when the acid kicks in a little harder and earlier than you thought. Follow-up tracks “The Snows of Banquo IV” and “Overworlder” don’t offer you any respite from the psychedelic frenzy in which you’ve found yourself, and I can see the dudes in Wo Fat taking pride in the wild-ass ride they’ve strapped you in for. Less skilled musicians would make a mess out of the sheer depth of the songs here, especially with the interdimensional mind-fuck of closing track “The Oracle.”
There’s some great psychedelic metal coming out this year, and Wo Fat’s newest output might be the best of the lot. If existential dread has you down, let The Singularity help you out of it.
Suffering Hour / Malthusian, Time’s Withering Shadow
Colorado/Minnesota trio Suffering Hour put out one hell of an album last year with The Cyclic Reckoning, so I was a little surprised to see them release more new material so soon.
This split, in collaboration with Irish blackened death outfit Malthusian, shows the best of what both bands have to offer – dizzying songwriting, swirling riffs, and vocals that sound like they’re conjuring a demon in a Norwegian forest. Malthusian has a little more in common with the chaos of bands like Portal, and that style complements Suffering Hour perfectly.
The dissonant fury of “Delirium” is a song you won’t want to listen to with the lights turned out, while “Dissolution of Consciousness” is a thoroughly uncomfortable and chaotic listen that’s rife with sonic unease. Those two tracks round out what Malthusian offers here, and it’s 20 minutes of some of the heaviest music I’ve listened to throughout 2022 so far.
Suffering Hour’s contributions are highlighted by “Temporal Lapse,” a study in modern-day death metal excellence. It’s ferocious yet subtle, with heavy reverb on the vocals and surprisingly melodic guitar leads. The frequent time changes and shifts in the pitch of the vocals keep things very engaging, and the song ends up resembling something Emperor would’ve done had they continued to release new music. (One can hope, anyway.) The surprise banjo interlude makes “Temporal Lapse” even more amazing.
To round things out, Suffering Hour deal a cover of “Reserection,” which is apparently a song originally done by Mighty Sphincter.
Gentlemen, you had my interest, but now you have my attention.
Like what you’ve heard? Want more? Follow my Spotify playlist, which I update religiously (and now with new artwork):
Wo Fat has always been one of those bands where my reaction is more “Yeah, that’s cool” than it is anything resembling true excitement, but goddamn this new one is just incredible and I can’t stop listening to it.
Nechochwen record totall seized my attention. Black metal takes new form. Awesome.