(Andy Synn has four more albums to recommend from March that you, and we, may have missed)
For this month’s catch up on “Things You May Have Missed” I’ve elected to cover four bands who – in my opinion at least – don’t conform neatly to any particular genre stereotypes or fit into one specific stylistic box.
That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a heap of other, more genre-specific releases to check out last month – Death Metal fans would do well to check out the malevolent murk of Aphotic and/or the sheer brutality of Thanatophobia, whereas those of a more “blackened” persuasion should give Blaze of Sorrow and Malphas a try (the latter especially), while anyone looking for something moodier and doomier will doubtless enjoy the new Isole and Weight of Emptiness (and I may still try and find time to write a few words about the former if/when I get chance) – but I thought I’d go with a few selections that are a bit harder to pin down.
ENTROPIA – TOTAL
The fourth album from Poland’s Entropia (who I really need to do a full-discography Synn Report on some time soon) is the sort of simmering, slow-burn experience that doesn’t reveal all its cards on the first listen. Or the second. Or even the third. It’s a serious slow-burner that unfolds entirely at its own pace, with little regard for the demands or expectations of anyone else.
What that means is that it might not “click” with you immediately – it didn’t with me either, to be honest, though I knew there was definitely something there – but if I make a few references to artists such as Oranssi Pazuzu and Altar of Plagues (most specifically the band’s final Teethed Glory… era) on the one had, awhile also namedropping the likes of Breach and Black Sheep Wall on the other, then maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to draw a few of you in to give the band’s unorthodox amalgam of Blackened Progressive Post-Sludge Metal a try.
The proggy opening of “Retox” also gives off some subtly Leprous-esque vibes – albeit, vibrations from an alternate universe where the band went in an even more abstract and angular direction post-Bilateral – with the song then progressing in an increasingly complex fashion, replete with a bevy of twisted, almost math-y riffs and some ear-catching drum work (as well as a surprising amount of off-kilter, yet oddly-catchy, melody).
“Mania”, by contrast, is that little bit moodier and doomier, the entire group working in harmony to let their densely-layered sound breathe a little more, devoting more sonic space to the gigantic wall-of-synths which is such an important part of the band’s backbone even as it builds towards an electrifying, Post-Black Metal crescendo, while the shining atmospherics and shimmering ambience of captivating instrumental track “Orbit” provide a beautiful background to the song’s intricately arranged riffs and eloquently layered lead melodies.
Unsurprisingly, the fifteen-minute title-track serves as the record’s scintillating centrepiece (and, potentially, the band’s magnum opus), with its hefty blend of beefy, bombastic riffs and lilting instrumental melodies, all topped off with some some suitably raw and desperate vocals and an ever-present aura of radiant synths, but you also shouldn’t discount the album’s aptly-named closer, “Final”, whose gorgeous mix of pristine Post-Rock dynamics and sublime soundscapes slowly but surely builds to a climactic crescendo that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Dutch genre-b(l)enders An Autumn For Crippled Children.
Unorthodox, unconventional but – in its own unique way – absolutely irresistible, this is one album that rewards you more and more the more time you spend with it.
FORCEFED HORSEHEAD – MONOCEROS
Sometimes – especially in cases like this – it’s best to refer to a band’s own words when it comes to describing their sound, and I can’t think of a better way of introducing Monoceros than by referring to the group’s own description of their sound as a crossover “…between death metal, punk, hardcore, black metal, post rock, prog and general hysteria…” or, more succinctly, as “Grindpunk“.
The thing is, they’re not being hyperbolic either, and it’s impressive – even on first listen – just how seamlessly that Forcefed Horsehead have fused these different influences and inspirations together, resulting in a record where hyper-aggressive Napalm Death/Brutal Truth inspired assaults like “Ruins” and “Dragged Back Into Life” sit seamlessly alongside hook-heavy ragers (“Novgorod”, “Übernecro”) that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Martyrdöd or Wolfbrigade album.
At the same time, darker numbers like “Futile” and “Spell No Stones” explore a more “blackened” sound akin to Goatwhore and/or Crust, while absolutely crushing cuts like “The Black Sun” (a future “songs of the year” contender) and the album’s devastatingly doomy denouement, “…And Then There Were None” could easily – with a tweak in one direction or the other – fit in right alongside Misery Index (at their slowest) or Primitive Man (at their moodiest).
Really, when all is said and done, the band’s true gift is on recognising, and channelling, the underlying spirit, the intangible soul, which connects all these sounds, and all these bands, into their own work, without sounding exactly like any one of them.
Truthfully, the closest (and best) comparison I can think of is with sadly-defunct Swedish genre-splicers The Great Deceiver – not just because FH frontman Audun Mehl sounds like he gargles with the same mix of broken glass and gasoline as Tomas Lindberg but because, like all the best “Grindpunk” bands… Forcefed Horsehead know that sometimes the best way to truly grind… is not to grind at all.
PROJECT 86 – OMNI, PART 1
Project 86 are a band I always meant to write more about here at NCS but, for whatever reason, the timing just never felt right.
Of course, that hasn’t prevented the band from building themselves a hell of a career (especially over the last twenty years, where they’ve been able to do things their own way and at their own pace) and, to be fair, I’ve sometimes felt that their sound – which incorporates elements of Nu-Metal, Post-Hardcore, Groove, Grunge, Alt-Rock, Post-Punk, and more – might not have necessarily gone down well with some of our readers (although perhaps I’m selling our audience a little short there?).
There’s no better time than now, however, to make up for this oversight, as not only is the band’s newest album set to be their last (or, since it’s part one of a double album, almost their last) it’s also, significantly, the heaviest – and possibly best – thing they’ve ever done.
Of course, heaviness isn’t everything, and just being “heavy” doesn’t make you “good” – although I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it will certainly help Omni, Part 1 appeal to our readers a lot more – but when it’s combined with this level of killer songwriting (something which has always been one of the band’s strongest points), and infused with this many humongous hooks (ditto), that’s when you know you’re onto a winner.
Sure, the first half of the record (which includes both the ridiculously powerful pre-release singles “Virtual Signal” and “0 > 1”, as well as the absolutely massive, and clearly Meshuggah-influenced, one-two of “When the Belfry Speaks” and “Metatropolis”) is a little bit stronger – and part of me kind of wishes they’d stuck to their guns and delivered an album of nothing but their densest, darkest material, even if it might have alienated some of their fanbase – but the closing combination of the absolutely electrifying “Spoon Walker” (easily one of the best songs they’ve ever written) and the cinematic “Tears in Reign” more than makes up for this slight dip in intensity, leaving me (and, hopefully, you) hungry for the next, and final, chapter in the story of Project 86.
SKOURGE – TORRENTIAL TORMENT
The debut album from Thrash/Death/Hardcore crossover crew Skourge is just under twenty-nine minutes of pure auditory adrenaline, every song a short, sharp shock to the system that doesn’t give two fucks about “fitting in” or making friends.
From the moment that the title track – all bone-rattling bass-lines, chunky, churning riffs, and punchy, punked-up percussive patterns – kicks things into high gear, all the way through to the final fading strains of crushing closer “Old Gods Return”, Torrential Torment doesn’t pull any punches, with most of the songs clocking in at around three minutes or less (and in the case of the furiously thrashy “Peasants Revolt” and the grim, grinding “Hallucinator”, much less).
Comparisons to Power Trip are, obviously, always going to be valid, and there are definitely some similarities to last year’s killer Spiritworld or Slowbleed albums too (although whereas the latter took some clear influence from latter-day Pantera it feels like Skourge have more in common with Diabolus… era Slayer), while the slower, chuggier moments of tracks like “Visions in the Mist” and “Blood Red Sun” share a share a sense of Xibalba-esque intensity that’s absolutely unquestionable.
But there’s also no question that Skourge have an even more prominent D-Beat/Hardcore side to them, and Torrential Torment is a more stripped-down, bare-bones experience – in the best possible way – than many of their more prominent peers, making for an album that has absolutely no fat, and zero filler, whether they’re getting their Thrash-Punk groove on during “Flagellation” or cutting loose with some disgustingly aggressive Death-Crust on “Nothing Is Sacred”.
It’s definitely not one for the purists, that’s for sure. But for those who understand that all heavy music shares a common ancestry… this is a welcome reminder of the raw, unvarnished roots of what we all love.