SEEN AND HEARD ON A SATURDAY: SWAMP LANTERN, USNEA, BLACKBRAID, ERNTE, UPCDOWNC
Today I woke up late and moved lazily. For most of my life, and probably yours, that’s the way Saturday mornings always were. Except in my case I had the lunatic idea when I started this blog in the fall of 2009 that I’d post something about music I liked even on Saturday and Sunday, and every holiday.
I thought of that as a way of underscoring that NCS would never be a business, and would consider none of us here as “workers”, because people working “jobs” almost always get weekends off. I think I also believed we might get more visitors due to the lack of competition on the weekends from the somewhat more-established metal sites that were beginning to dot the internet landscape.
And I probably thought the lifespan of NCS would be about a year, so how tough would it be to listen and write on the weekends for a year? Who knew it would go on like it has? I sure as shit didn’t.
In the last 13+ years I’ve failed to make some weekend posts, after a long stretch of never failing, though the number of failure days is still small. So now when I wake up late and move lazily it doesn’t take long before I start to feel like I’d better get my shit in gear, even if the lateness of the morning hour means I’m not able to make the Saturday roundup as extensive as I’d like (which is true today). But… no failure today at least….
SWAMP LANTERN (U.S.)
My comrade Andy Synn was very impressed with Swamp Lantern‘s “devilishly distinctive” 2020 debut album, Phantasms, but it’s fair to say he was bowled over by their 2022 follow-up, The Lord Is With Us (and so was I). To crib just a bit from his review:
“As catchy and compelling as they may be, however, it’s not just the individual quality of each of these songs which makes The Lord is With Us so good. No, it’s the overarching and irresistible vibe of the album – doomy yet dynamic, gloomy yet dripping with groove, laced with subtle psychedelic threads and flavoured with a sharp, smoky taste of blackened bitterness – which serves to make it more than just the mere sum of its parts….
“[It] delivers even more than you bargained for. It’s the sort of album that gets better, and grows on you – fungus-like – with each and every listen. And my advice is just to accept that once it gets under your skin absolutely nothing is going to get rid of it. So you might as well just enjoy it.”
It is, therefore, very welcome news that Swamp Lantern (who make their home in Bellingham, Washington, a ferry trip and a few hours drive from where I’m writing this) are at work on a new album. The first sign of what they’ve been up to is a first draft of a song called “The Trip” which they released along with a video of the recording session not long ago. Here’s what they say about it:
“Recorded on the very cold night of December 15, 2022 by Nick Taylor at Bellinghome School of Music in Bellingham, WA, mastered by Scott Vaillancourt.
“This is the first song from a big bunch of material we are working on for our next album. We decided to release this video as a preview of what’s in our creative future. A few things aligned perfectly as far as studio time and camera availability that helped this project come together. We took the opportunity and captured ourselves running through the song as it existed that night. So, even if The Trip evolves as time goes on, we hope you enjoy a glimpse into the current state of things. Thank you all.”
At the beginning of “The Trip” Swamp Lantern put a heavy anchor down with a rapidly addictive riff that’s woozy and delightfully sinister, and then begin to weave around it, adding hammer-like chugs and equally woozy vocals, but also hair-raising screams and neck-snapping drum-fills.
The song’s sinister and psychedelic vibe builds and mutates, with the riffing beginning to ooze and undulate, like something moving through a thick and fecund swamp lit by ghost-lights, but without abandoning the heavy grooves carved by the rhythm section.
But there’s still more to come — an acceleration into a pulse-quickening, kind of jolting, gallop accented by weird but sprightly leads and rabid, vampiric shrieks; a shift back into a considerably more witchy and menacing instrumental segment mediated by a big dose of sonic narcotics; and a brief drum solo to cap things off.
No telling exactly how “The Trip” might evolve before it becomes an album track, or what the rest of the album may present, but Swamp Lantern have already set the hook for it in our heads, and hopefully yours as well.
Having started things off today with music made under the glowering grey skies of the Pacific Northwest, I decided to stay there with the first song off a new album by Portland-based Usnea.
That song, “From Soot and Pyre“, is a lumbering crusher, a massive beast that moans as it goes, urged on by incinerating screams, abyssal roars, and reverberating wails. Thick as tar (and oozing black tar), the music is staggeringly grim, but gets more frightening as well, thanks to quivering and buzzing guitars that add feelings of both madness and desolation.
Those guitars uncomfortably needle the ears as the extravagantly tormented vocals rake at the mind, even more unhinged than before, leading toward a musical denouement of utter catastrophe that smashes and swirls.
This is the sort of thing that leaves listeners with the whites of their eyes showing, frighteningly mesmeric in its power but so brutally heavy that you might envision tall buildings clubbed to the ground.
DECIBEL had the premiere last week, and the stream is still exclusive there, so I’ll have to direct you to this location to get bamboozled and busted up by it. Here’s part of what Usnea guitarist and lead vocalist Justin Cory says there about the song:
“‘From Soot and Pyre’ aims its rage at the wreckage that human life has visited upon our Earth through capitalism, climate change, resource extraction and war. It was especially poignant to us here in the Pacific Northwest when the forests were burning all around us in 2020 and 2021 and the air was literally poisonous.
“On a lighter note, Johnny wrote some seriously infectious sludge riffs for this one and as the song evolved I got very excited about adding some swirling John Carpenter-meets-Goblin analog synth lines at the end. This song is one of our shortest but it seems to really devastate audiences live in spite of that brevity.”
The new album is Bathed in Light, and it will be out on May 26 via Translation Loss.
Time to shake things up and get out of the PNW after those first two songs, and to do that I picked a new video for BlackBraid‘s “Barefoot Ghost Dance on Blood Soaked Soil“, which captures the band’s live performance last October at NY’s Saint Vitus Bar as part of a festival called “A Sortilege of Hell“.
I don’t think I need to say anything more at this point about the song, having already written about it on two previous occasions, one of which was when I named it to our list of 2022’s Most Infectious Extreme Metal Songs. But it’s great to see it performed live by this meteoric band. So enjoy!
(The film was provided by Wolf Mountain Protections, Daniel Nyman, & Saint Vitus Bar.)
Where to go next? Well, I decided to stay in a blackened vein and go next to Switzerland for a song named “Phantoms” off the next album from Ernte.
As the title suggests, this is a sinister wraith of a song, propelled by high-toned riffs that squirm like ants who’ve gotten under the listener’s skin and are frantically trying to chew their way out, coupled with beefy bass lines, and clobbering drumwork. Goblin-like snarls and screams join in, along with chime-like chords and slithering melodies that together seem otherworldly, poisonous, and distraught.
The song creates tension and peril in ever-strengthening ways, and you can’t help but think something terrible will happen to those woodland wanderers in the video, especially when the song speeds up into a kind of feeding frenzy and the imagery itself becomes more frantic. Hornets swarm in the music, the vocals remain ravenous and caustic, and spirits seem to wail in the sounds of the lead guitar. But if you’re looking for a release, don’t get your hopes up.
Ernte‘s new album is Albsegen, set for release by Vendetta Records on April 7th. More news will appear here:
Hard to stop, but I must. Hard to know where to stop too. The musical place I chose may strike frequent visitors to our site as a little odd, especially when you hear the lightness of the song’s overture, where a slowly-picked acoustic guitar, a warm bass, and an old-school electric keyboard join together to create a musing and mesmerizing mood.
It’s an intriguing way to start, but the main reason the song is here is because of what happens next. It’s the song’s big rumbling and rocking groove and the infectiousness of the darting and slithering riffage (with a bit of grit in the gears) that becomes the big hook.
The band also keep things interesting by weaving in other ingredients, including a ticking, bass-toned time-bomb, and some unexpected crashing detonations of blaring, discordant sound. The ticking becomes more urgent, until the music convulses in a bashing and boiling tumult (with a vibrant pulse in the middle), and then seems to writhe and bounce in blazing lunatic ecstasy, even as the rhythm section continue giving your guts bare-knuckled slugs.
The song, “Exhaler“, is from an album named Duel by this Kent-based band that releases on February 24 via Trepanation Recordings.
This, by the way, was not a blind choice. I did, after all, premiere and review Upcdownc‘s 2020 album Score, which I found to be “a refreshing discovery, one that’s persistently tantalizing and transportive”, and “a thoroughly engrossing experience because of its near-constant ebb and flow, and the masterful ways in which the band construct and deconstruct the music”.
Okay, that’s it for today. More coming tomorrow, whether I sleep late again or not. Failure is not an option….
That Blackbraid video is not actually live. I was hoping for a live performance. Anyway, great song.