Since yesterday was a Bandcamp Friday [actually, it wasn’t, as Nic pointed out in a comment below] I wish I could have spent more time recommending more music than I did, but at least I got a full handful of choices out there. Now my hands are full again, and when I open them these things will fly like moths to your flame, or I hope they will.
This new collection was the result of lots of surfing the effluent that continually floods the interhole, searching for nuggets that aren’t the kind you’d find in a septic tank. I found them, an octet of them (including three complete EPs), but I must confess that in the course of the sifting I fell into a strange trip. Dark moods descended, and occasionally lifted, but not entirely. I encountered nostalgia too, and found a pair of curveballs to throw at you for the finale, which is always fun, especially for those of you who have no idea about baseball.
But of course, although these trips are mainly about what pleases me, I always hope (fervently) that some or all of it will please you too.
The haunting video for Skarntyde‘s new song “Midt i ruinene” doesn’t present a pretty picture of modernity, instead moving among scenes of our accomplishments fouling the air and the water, our transport machinery convulsing like seizures, landfills full to overflowing, our structures left ruined and abandoned in their desolation, forests reduced to tombstones of their former life, a lifeless creature sprawled on pavement, all of it cloaked in a dismal gray, with lowering skies that move like seas overseeing it all at the end.
If the visions don’t leave you disgusted, angry, and forlorn, the music will, in stunning fashion.
This long song is made of many movements. At the end, it made me think of head-down pallbearers, with the casket of the Earth on their shoulders. Before that, the music moans and wails in agony in a similar cemetery-bound march; thunders, scorches, and writhes in a fiery and deranged fury around serrated goblin snarls; becomes increasingly twisted and unhinged, to the point of sounding like an intricate nightmare; and suddenly softens, as solemn organ keys loft above feverish, crackling tones.
The guitar wails again in abject agony above a musing bass and shifting drum patterns, and deep, hallowed singing brings a different dimension to the oppressive and increasingly frightening gloom.
We’re getting perilously close to the hangman’s drop at the end of the year, but this haunting and harrowing music is a reminder that there’s still black brilliance waiting before the neck of 2022 snaps.
“Midt i ruinene” is the third of three tracks that appear on the EP Da jeg gråt ved jordens ruiner (“When I cried at the ruins of the earth”), which follows the 2021 debut album by this Bavarian duo, whose name is the Norwegian word for the “poison hemlock” plant.
The record was released yesterday by Trollmusic and Schattenpfade as a CD edition in a digisleeve made of kraft cardboard accompanied by a hand-numbered woven patch and a booklet with all lyrics (Norwegian/German). The other two songs on the EP, which you’ll find below after the video, are also exceptionally good.
The Quebec death metal band Sarkasm may only have one album under their belts, but they sound like they’ve been doing this for a thick stack of years. The new song “The Collapse” off that album has the trappings of a classic from a couple or three decades back, but with modern embellishments that keep it from sounding like a re-tread.
Sarkasm did in fact come into existence in 1990 (under the name Traumatism), and in quick succession released a quartet of demos before falling silent until re-forming in 2019. The album As Empires Decay is the result of that reunion.
Judging from “The Collapse”, the reinvigorated Sarkasm know how to trigger muscle reflexes with vivid pulsing grooves and darting riffage while simultaneously building a grim and cruel mood, and the vocals are a manifestation of raw and ragged hostility. But the intricate instrumental variations in the song and the melodic solo spectacles make it stand out even more. And while grim at first, the song builds to a glorious, heart-pounding crescendo.
As Empires Decay will be released by Xtreme Music on January 24th, and the label locates it “in the vein of bands like early Gorguts, Oblivion, Death, Pestilence, and Absorbed.”
BEAST MODE (U.S.)
When I last wrote about these Georgia death/thrashers in another one of these Saturday roundups in March 2021, the subject was a track off their EP Pound of Flesh. I summed it up as “a giant neck-ruiner, muscle-bruiser, and bone-breaker”, and “a savage, exhilarating, and highly addictive piece of work too”.
Now Beast Mode are returning with a new EP named Seventh Solstice that’s set for release on February 17th, and to pave the way they just released a song from the EP named “The Forge“. It wastes no time kicking up the adrenaline levels with flurries of darting and jittering guitars, skull-snapping drums, voracious growls, and incinerating screams.
The song is heavy-grooved but the gallops are mosh-worthy and the music also convulses in viciously crazed spasms. On top of all that, it’s home to a glorious, shred-tastic guitar solo that pushes the song to even greater heights of maniacal splendor.
In addition to “The Forge”, Seventh Solstice also includes a classical guitar intro by Corey Flowers, another new track, and two re-recorded tracks from the band’s 2016 debut album Blood Moon.
Given the current wretched conditions in their country, brought horrifically low by Russian terror, there’s a good chance that Kharkiv-based Заводь (a name that may mean “backwater”) will make their next record in the freezing dark with amps powered by generators, or only after a very long wait. But in the meantime we have their EP Березоль (“Berezol”), released yesterday, to tide us over. I bought it before I even finished listening to all of it.
Compared to their last record, 2019’s Уже заря зажглась (which I reviewed here), the number of musical participants on the new release has been stripped down to “only” seven, and the music has taken a turn as well. Whereas “Death Cabaret” was one possible shorthand for the last release, which included a lot of non-metal instrumentation as well as ’80s-style new-wave synths, this new one brings melodic and atmospheric black metal with a panoramic scope and a fierce heart.
I don’t mean to suggest that black metal was foreign to the last release, but it dominates here, through the caustic goblin screams, the hurtling drums, and the dense swathes of tremolo’d chords. Yet, this music is far from just one thing. While capable of unleashing ferocity, it’s equally effective in scrambling minds and moods, intricate in its instrumentation, and variable in both its tempos and its moods — though it must be aid that the moods are often beleaguered. Moreover, thanks to fairly clear production, it allows the excellent drumming and vivid bass work to shine through.
I referred earlier to the music being panoramic. It’s not always so, but when it hits those sweeping, fire-bright, synth-embellished heights, it takes the breath away, even as it breaks the heart with feelings of pain, despair, or haunting remembrance. I also referred to the music as having a fierce heart, and that comes through too, not just in the intensity of the vocals but also in moments where resilience flares and a kind of romantic yearning flowers and swings in the melodies.
The band explain: “Thematically this is probably the most comprehensive release in our discography. The art canvas is not just about war – about the degradation of personality, genocide and the struggle to preserve the free world. And when we talk of struggling, we know that after desperate bloodshed there will be a new dawn.” The stunning cover art was made by Gurge Feodor.
FOREVER AUTUMN (U.S.)
Now for an interlude. I don’t mean something soothing, but something frustratingly brief.
I have to say, I frown on the choice of “Death Folk” as the first single from Forever Autumn‘s new EP, because no sooner than it kindles excitement and intrigue, it gets cut short, as if victimized by the fall of a guillotine used to sever those pampered French necks — except here, rather than recoil from the slice, I’m left angrily annoyed at the fall of the blade.
Why? Because the demented frenzy of the cello is electric, and the caustic impact of Autumn Ni Dubhghaill‘s screaming snarls is so nasty. Does Forever Autumn hate us, for giving us only 43 seconds of blackened classicist grindcore when they might have given us at least two minutes? Come on!
Well, I’m joking — slightly — because “Death Folk” didn’t actually leave me hanging, but only because after listening to it I did make my way through a promo I received for the EP as a whole. It’s described as “a five song exploration of shamanism and witchery through Pagan Folk and Acoustic Doom”. It also includes a contribution of additional vocals by Aaron Stainthorpe on the opening song “The Forest and the Nyght”, and cello performances by Autumn‘s musical partner Jon McGrath. In addition to vocals, both screamed and soulfully crooned, Autumn herself performs guitar, balalaika, bodhrán, cello on “Incense and Deer Skulls”, rattle, shaker, tambourine, and “doom drum”.
It’s not merely the acoustic instrumentation that often places the music in a distant age, but also some of the compositions, including the spellbinding closer “Under Shadows of Annwn”and “The Forest and the Nyght”. In that opener the music is dark in its moods, and becomes hypnotic — but the deep and downcast reveries it creates are repeatedly shattered by banshee screams that strike like ice-picks in the ear-drums — even more shattering than what you’ll hear in “Death Folk”.
Elsewhere (as in both “Death Folk” and the instrumental “Incense and Deer Skulls”), more modern (dare I say avant-garde?) instrumental variations come into play along with the primitive drumming. But in every song other than the unhinged “Death Folk”, darkness and death seem ever-present, especially in the long “Dried Herbs in Water”, which slowly builds from lament into torment.
BENEATH MY FEET (Sweden)
At the outset I said I would indulge nostalgia in the course of today’s collection, and here’s what I was referencing. This song, “Caught In A Hurricane“, takes me back to metalcore days, with music that delivers a traumatic beating and brings into the mix both jolting and writhing riffs, punchy electronic pulses, and an amalgam of extravagant cries and vicious screams.
And yes, it gets melodic too, with the catchy melody here carried by soaring singing voices. And did I mention that one of those vocalists, in both appearance and sound, reminds me of Björn Strid? Bonus nostalgia points there.
The song is the second single from this band’s forthcoming sophomore studio album, entitled In Parts, Together, which is set to arrive via Noble Demon on January 13th.
DIE OBERHERREN (Sweden)
I did promise a couple of curveballs, and here’s the first one.
In the video below for the song “The Blood or the Wine“, the protagonist may look like your institutionalized uncle on supervised day-release playing tourist at Highgate Cemetery, but he (or whoever is singing) has a voice that sounds like a cross between Billy Idol and Jim Morrison, which is like catnip to this cat (there’s no way I could resist such a thing).
The song is also highly infectious, a hook-filled goth-rock throw-back that’s very danceable, but also very sinister and supernatural (as well as seductive), and not only because sudden screams burst in.
The song is from a debut album named Die By My Hand, set for release on January 27th 2023 by Svart Records. The band was conceived by Joakim Knutsson, and the complete line-up on the album is reported to include past or current members of bands such as The Coffinshakers, Ghost, The Mobile Mob Freakshow, Gehennah, and apparently many more.
Now, the second curveball.
I must thank Yunclas for the photograph on the cover of their just-released EP Life among the ruins, and for leaving a note at Bandcamp about what it shows us: “Berlin 1945, people near the ruins of the zoo bunker”.
Knowing nothing about the “zoo bunker”, I searched it up and found its fascinating history at The Font of All Human Knowledge, which I encourage the historically curious among you to read in detail.
In synopsis, it was indeed a bunker but also a massive tower. The German army used the summit as a platform for mounting pulverizing flak guns high above the government building district of Berlin during World War II, to keep Allied bombers away, which it was very effective at doing.
By lowering the elevation of the mighty guns, the artillerymen also kept the advancing Red Army at bay in the war’s waning days. After several stymied assaults, the Soviets negotiated a surrender of the combatants manning the guns rather than trying to continue taking the tower by force.
After the war ended, the Brits went to extraordinary lengths to demolish it (one wonders why, but one suspects there were symbolic reasons for the 35 tons of dynamite they used up). And in a beautiful denouement, the cleansed land later became the site of the Berlin Zoo, with land once beneath a connected smaller building becoming the site of the Hippopotamus Park – hence the name of the once formidable fortress.
I listened to the two tracks on the EP while doing this reading. In each of them Yunclas cooks up some heavy (very heavy) electro-beats and then lets them pump like the pistons of a very groovy mega-machine.
In the title track, around those earth-moving industrial beats Yunclas weaves swirling futuristic sounds that build feelings of tension and peril, the clattering snap of flickering pulses, doses of weird, warbling, and cacophonous abrasion, glittering celestial lights, cold droning undercurrents, and lots of other continually morphing sensations.
The second song, “Passing the abyss”, pounds just as hard, and what goes on around the bouncing groove is also multi-faceted, but more deranged and disorienting despite the lively presence of a shrill, darting keyboard motif.