SEEN AND HEARD (THE “BIG NAME” EDITION): OBITUARY, AHAB, DEVIN TOWNSEND, HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE, AT THE GATES
At this site we spend much more of our time trying to unearth underground gems and to push rising stars whose music deserves a push than we do acclaiming bands who are already household names, with big labels and robust PR machineries behind them. That’s not “virtue signaling”, it’s just a fact.
Does this mean we’re elitists who turn up our noses at the music of “big names”? Not at all. Though we pride ourselves on not fawning over those names even when they trip and release music that’s more likely to provoke yawns than excitement, we’re not immune to their allure — after all, most of them got big for a reason, and some are capable of reminding us why, at least until the well of inspiration runs dry.
It so happens that this week produced new songs and videos from a lot of big names, some of whom are returning after long absences. I’ve collected five of them in this round-up. It kind of clears the way for me to spend tomorrow focusing exclusively on names more obscure. Be forewarned: there’s lots of singing here today.
Six years after the release of their last (self-titled) album Obituary will be releasing a new one in January named Dying of Everything. Founders John and Donald Tardy and Trevor Peres are still in harness, and bassist Terry Butler and lead guitarist Kenny Andrews are back for another round too.
Photo Credit: Tim Hubbard
“The Wrong Time” is the album’s first single, which arrived with a video. You’d best get your neck loose for this one, and it brings some hellish and hooky riffs along with the feral grooves, maddened vocals, crazed soloing, and an overarching mood of menace.
Dying of Everything will be released on January 13th by Relapse.
One of the first science fiction movies I ever saw was Disney’s version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Jules Verne novel it was based on was also one of the first sci-fi books I ever read, and it set me on a binge of eventually reading every novel Verne wrote. You can imagine, therefore, how fucking excited I was to learn not only that Ahab have returned after eight years since their last full-length, but that their new album The Coral Tombs tells the tale of that Verne masterpiece.
The first advance song from the album, “Prof. Arronax’ descent into the vast oceans“, picks up the story as the album’s opening track when Nemo’s Nautilus attacks the navy frigate carrying Professor Pierre Aronnax, his manservant Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land, throwing them into the sea and nearly drowning them, though the metallic monster also saves them as they find their footing on the surfacing Nautiius. The song features Ultha‘s Chris Dark as a guest vocalist, and it arrived yesterday via a lyric video.
The song’s opening is a paroxysm of fear, driven by hammering drums, scathing chords, and a blend of roars and screams. It’s an unnerving experience, but one that suddenly segues into a watery dreamscape of languid melody and soaring singing, like a slow drift into oceanic depths surrounded by marvels. And there, in the song’s melancholy but mesmerizing main body, the haunted figure of Nemo becomes the narrator, with a marvelous guitar solo at its apex.
The Coral Tombs will be released by Napalm Records on January 13th.
DEVN TOWNSEND (Canada)
Once upon a time I would have called myself a die-hard Devin Townsend fan, from the days of SYL straight through Empath — not that I liked all the records in equal measure (far from it), but there was always something in the mix that fired me up. And then came 2021’s Lightwork. All I can say about it is that I hope DT got that out of his system.
So, maybe I’m stretching here by including this next video in today’s round-up, but I did find “Heartbreaker” one of the more off-kilter and thus more appealing songs on an album that overall was just too sleepy for me. It’s got some hefty punch to it, some weird and occasionally disturbing synth and keyboard escapades, flights of soaring grandeur, and an amazing cornucopia of vocal stylings.
HAMMERS OF MISFORTUNE (U.S.)
Overtaker is the name of this much-loved band’s seventh album in a 20-year career, and the first since 2016’s Dead Revolution. It features vocalist Jamie Myers once again, in her first performance as a full band member since 2006.
The second of two advance tracks from the album, “Outside Our Minds“, surfaced about a week ago via a premiere at Invisible Oranges (along with an extensive and very interesting interview of John Cobbett, who characterized the record as a blend of thrash and Cardiacs-influenced experimentation — and also something in the spirit (if not the sound) of what might happen “if Sadus‘ Illusions got in a car crash with Genesis‘ Nursery Cryme“, or “Holy Terror meets early King Crimson, or Pleasure to Kill meets Close to the Edge“.
Its not the first time Hammers have made a stylistic switch-up. As Cobbett remarks in the interview, it’s the kind of album where Hammers may lose some old fans, and pick up some new ones. I for one am very happy with it, and “Outside Our Minds” is a fine example why.
The song is a fiery rush, but is full of unexpected and intricate twists and turns, like a swift and exhilarating spin through a head-spinning carnival, with new fretwork machinations, instrumental accents, tempo changes, and mood alterations around every sudden corner. Prog-thrash anyone?
I’m also including a stream of the previously released “Don’t Follow the Lights“, which is a mind-bender of a different kind, partly a seductive and psychedelic spell, partly a delirious madcap romp with furious firebrand vocals. This one’s thrashier than the newer song, but is still a wild and exciting hybrid of styles.
Overtaker is set for release on December 2nd
AT THE GATES (Sweden)
We’re now 16 months past the release of At the Gates‘ latest album The Nightmare of Being (reviewed here). There was is a bonus disc on that album that includes live performances of older AtG songs recorded at the April 2019 Roadburn Festival in Tilburg.
What happened this week was that the band released videos for two of those deep-cut bonus-disc tracks — “The Burning Darkness” and “The Scar” — as a way of helping launch a forthcoming AtG European tour with In Flames. Both videos were made by Costin Chioreanu / Twilight 13 Media.
Both are fantastic — both songs and both videos. The rendition of “The Burning Darkness“, accompanied by riveting footage shot at the festival, is gothic, baroque, and trippy. The beautifully made video for “The Scar” takes us beyond the stage, and features the Yo Quail Quartet, who performed the song with AtG at the festival. It’s more unworldly, more sorrow-stricken and haunting, and more deeply sinister.