Apr 032023

(We’ve just barely breached the walls of April, and so our friend Gonzo makes a timely reappearance with a selection of five albums released in March that made a big impact in his listening.)

Before I get to writing this month’s helping of my choice cuts from last month, I gotta get something out of the way first:

I am still absolutely buzzing from last night’s Death to All show here in Denver.

To see the likes of Steve DiGiorgio and Gene Hoglan play music of any kind on stage, in person, is a treat enough by itself, but having them rip through selections from the inimitable Death for almost two hours was an experience that I plan to re-live in perpetuity. Possibly forever. Who knows?

It was an insane spectacle for the eyes as well as the ears, and I’ll get to writing up the entire thing soon enough. If you missed this tour, you have my condolences.

Let’s get to the good stuff from March.



Sermon, Of Golden Verse

Little seems to be known about the shadowy minds that make up the UK’s Sermon, but their sound scratches a particular proggy itch that I didn’t know needed scratching.

Their debut album Birth of the Marvelous really struck a chord with me in 2019, when I was somewhat disappointed by the Leprous album that came out around the same time. Sermon had a bit more bite to their angular approach, sounding like a blend of Soen, Leprous, and a hint of Tool. Their songs were emotive, fluid, and dynamic, and the album warranted several repeat listens from that point.

Of Golden Verse came out of nowhere this past week, surprising me when it showed up suddenly on Bandcamp. It builds pretty brilliantly on where the band left off four years ago. “Royal” gets things going with a dramatic intro, punctuated by rapid-fire drums and a newfound focus on riffs. The vocals flirt with more aggressive territory as well, highlighted by the ominous “Light the Witch.”

What I love most here, though, is the band’s ability to deftly switch between prog, doom, and something that falls into more gothic territory. There are layers here, to be sure, and the experience is rewarding when you spin up this one after your first listen. You’ll notice something new every time.





Hanging Garden, The Garden

Never mind the fact that Finland leads the world in quality of life – the country still has bands that release some of the most despair-ridden heavy music ever recorded.

Much like their fellow Finns in Swallow the Sun, Helsinki’s Hanging Garden are here to rip your heart out and feed it to you. They’ve been excelling at this since 2004, and The Garden might’ve already established itself as one of the best in their repertoire. The opening title track takes listeners on a sonic journey that evokes some Draconian-like elements, with brilliant interplay between sorrowful female vocals and anguished screams. “The Four Winds” tugs on your heartstrings and isn’t shy about it, giving way to the relentlessly catchy grooves in “The Construct.” The band actually uses three vocalists, and they all apply their magic beautifully together here, whether it’s working harmoniously during the clean/spoken-word passages or unleashing tectonic roars.

And no matter what subgenre of metal you’re lurking in most, a good lead is mandatory. This is not lost on Hanging Garden, as “The Song of Spring” is a timely and memorable anthem that features a gorgeous lead throughout. All seven members of the band fill every song with worlds of atmosphere and subtly, wielding it expertly – songs can range from quiet, even desperate, and then lurch at just the right moment into a ferocious doom-driven dirge. “The Fireside” in particular is a very prescient example of how well this is done.




Marianas Rest, Auer

Maybe it’s something in the water in Helsinki this month, but Finnish doom has been quietly breaking hearts and cracking skulls lately. Enter this searing slice of sludgy doom from Marianas Rest, the other amazing Finnish doom outfit that might’ve not been on your radar until now.

Auer picks up where 2021’s incredible Fata Morgana left off, delivering a crushingly heavy portrait of sorrow and loss. Much like what was in that album, vocalist Jaakko Mantymaa powers much of the heaviness on his own with his paint-peeling screams in Auer. And by now, metal has definitely answered the question of “how fucking terrifying can the human voice be?” Mantymaa deserves credit for answering that question with a resounding “hold my aquavit.” On top of that, Auer seems to have a more slightly polished mix than its predecessor, which really elevates these vocals even further.

First single “Diseased” hits like a brick to the chest, while “Light Reveals Our Wounds” then channels some Insomnium-like crescendos and swells, featuring an interesting spoken-word approach to the vocals. As I’m typing this, you can feel Mantymaa’s pain seep through the speakers, no matter what he’s doing, and guitarists Harri Sunila and Nico Manttari aid his efforts beautifully. And that’s not even mentioning the subtle awe of what Aapo Koivisto can do with a keyboard.





Shores of Null, The Loss of Beauty

I’m now realizing how doom-heavy this list is, but hey, at least Shores of Null are from somewhere other than Finland?

These Italian blackened doom merchants actually resemble two criminally underrated doom outfits – Red Moon Architect and Daylight Dies. Where those similarities stop, though, is with their down-tempo tremolo riffs. You can find them spread throughout The Loss of Beauty like ashes from an urn; my favorite of which being the soul-crushing “The Last Flower.” The tempos surprisingly pick up to faster moments for a doom record, which is where you can really hear the black metal influence. Makes you wonder if this band loves Abbath just as much as they seem to love Sabbath.

“Nothing Left to Burn” brings to mind another somewhat underrated band, Dawn of Solace. It’s got a soaring but gritty feel to it, as Shores of Null aren’t afraid to mix up styles enough to keep each song interesting. With 13 songs overall here, though, I’d have liked to have heard a little more variety between the tracks, but it’s a minor complaint given how well Null plays with the formula that makes up their sonic DNA.






Judiciary, Flesh + Blood

To wrap things up, let’s go somewhere that’s literally the polar opposite of the other countries featured so far – geographically, anyway.

West Texas’s Judiciary are a searing hardcore act whose sound could be weaponized into weapons-grade plutonium. With Flesh + Blood, their sophomore album, these guys have embodied the glory days of hardcore while throwing a match into a powder keg – think the same way Stampin’ Ground changed the game with Carved From Empty Words, fusing devastating riffs with tough-guy hardcore bravado. The same formula is doing some serious heavy lifting with Flesh + Blood.

Openers “Flesh” and then “Blood” focus all the fury one band could possibly muster into two minutes apiece, and then “Paradigm Piercer” comes storming out of the gate with a thunderous chorus that begs to be shouted in a live setting with fists held to the sky. It’s just as anthemic as it is heavy, and it’s rare to hear a hardcore band toe such a line – and do it so effectively.

Meanwhile, “Knife in the Dirt” pummels you from every angle, taking a plodding jackhammer riff and turning it into a pit-friendly frenzy during the song’s final minute. “Steel Hand God” might be the most acerbic cut on the album, with unignorable lyrics and a vocal performance that pushes the limits of what the human throat is capable of. When the song settles into its diabolical bridge halfway through, beware – you’re about to die in that fucking pit.



Follow my best-of-2023 Spotify playlist to hear songs from all of the above albums and a shitload more: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/7zWqE685GVpuB5M3qRDvog?si=7388b5b9430342e5

  4 Responses to “GONZO’S HEAVY ROUNDUP, MARCH 2023”

  1. Kudos To Hanging Garden For Its Immaculate Slow n Steady Music

  2. I am biased against bands whose names I don’t like. I know it is ignorant and irrational, but that’s the deal. “Hanging Garden” is a dumb name, in my opinion, and I have avoided listening to them as a result. I did just listen now and they were ok. But names have a strong effect on my appreciation of metal (album covers too). Another example is “KEN mode”, which is a really bad and dumb band name and I have never listened even once to them because of it. “Dew scented” is another.

    • I’ve liked KEN Mode’s name ever since learning that KEN is an acronym for Kill Everyone Now. 🙂 And I found this description by Matti Reinola of how Hanging Garden got their name, which confirmed my guess (it’s not really about horticulture):

      “The name comes from a classic The Cure album, Pornography, which includes a song called Hanging Garden. I am a huge The Cure fan so I thought it would be a cool name for the band. For us it means a garden filled with people hanging on nooses, a kind of apocalyptic thing, although I know hanging garden means a different thing, not that at all. But that’s our interpretation. I was aware of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, too, and it kinda gave the name more meaning and mysticism, which I like.”

      • Oh cool, thanks, I didnt know any of that background (I did say I was ignorant). I think I remember that Cure song actually. A garden where people are hanged–now that’s a creepy scene, a combination of verdant setting and morbid activity.

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