(Andy Synn catches you upon four meaty underground morsels from April)
Finally accepting that I/we would never cover most – let alone all – of the new releases each month/year was extremely liberating.
It meant that I could feel more comfortable just writing about whatever artists/albums caught my eye/ear, for whatever reason, with the hope that some of my compatriots would catch some of the stuff I missed, and the understanding that certain records are probably going to get enough coverage elsewhere that it won’t make a huge difference if none of us get around to covering them.
Sacrificing quantity for quality also means that you are – hopefully – going to get better, and more insightful, results from each review (something which, let’s be honest, those sites publishing 50+ reviews a week probably aren’t giving you) though I can’t necessarily guarantee that due to lack of time/sleep/mental capacity.
But, I promise, I’m going to try my best, which today means examining four very different albums from four very different bands.
ASTRAL SLEEP – WE ARE ALREADY LIVING IN THE END OF TIMES
Having enjoyed Astral Sleep‘s previous album, 2020’s deliriously doomy Astral Doom Musick, I was excited to hear the newest fruits of their labours, though the album’s dramatic (some might say melodramatic) title suggested that the quartet were hewing a little (or a lot) darker than usual this time around.
And while that’s definitely true (you don’t call your album We Are Already Living in the End of Times without having a few issues to work through) it’s more of a dejected, despairing form of darkness, heavily laden with feelings of loss and weary resignation, eschewing the kaleidoscopic colours of its predecessor in favour of a more oppressive (and aggressive) approach whose reliance on heavier riffs and harsher vocals helps create an altogether more apocalyptic sense of atmosphere.
That’s not to say the record is a one-note affair by any means, however, as passages like the shadowy, brooding intro of the opening title-track and the transcendently proggy finale of “Invisible Flesh” demonstrate the group’s creative versatility, even as the record’s heaviest moments (such as the snarling “Torment in Existence” and the titanic “Time Is”, which is possibly/probably the album’s best track) plumb even darker and doomier depths.
And although I’ve seen a few reviews take issue with Markus Heinonen’s clean vocals – which, I’ll acknowledge, aren’t the band’s strongest feature – to my ears his wounded wails possess a sense of crestfallen character and a flair for dramatic that fits the music nicely, especially during Communic-esque closer “Status of the Soul”.
So give this one a listen the next time you’re in the mood for something a little bit gloomier. You might just like what you hear!
NEBULAE COME SWEET – DE LUMIÈRE
Now this one was a big surprise to me, from a band I was utterly unfamiliar with prior to stumbling across this release online.
Call it Post-Metal, call it Prog-Metal… call it whatever you like… what you have here are seven cinematically-constructed and artistically-ambitious songs, replete with both passages of immersive ambiences and a plethora of non-metallic elements/instruments (including cello, violin, trumpet, accordion, and saxophone), that sit somewhere between the high-concept creativity of Hypno5e and the electrifying emotional intensity of Klone.
From the simmering slow-burn of “Lumen” (just under eight minutes of shimmering synths, punchy, pneumatic riffs, and captivating clean vocals) to the rumbling, Nu-Metal-ish grooves and unorthodox progressive twists of “Claritas”, ultimately culminating in the doomy riffs and moody ambience of immersive instrumental outro “Epilogue En Si Mineur”, the Belarusian quartet (and their various collaborators) take you on a dynamic musical journey (and, yes, I know that’s something of a cliché) that never ceases to challenge your expectations and invigorate your senses.
Make no mistake, it truly is impressive how seamlessly the group are able to weave together all these different sonic textures – the proggy riffage and symphonic sensibilities of “Candor”, the simultaneously stripped-down simplicity yet multilayered melodic complexity of “Splendor”, the thunderous catharsis of “Lux” – into a cohesive, coherent whole, and chances are you’ll be unpicking and unpacking all the different elements and ingredients which make up De Lumière for a long time to come!
OMNICIDAL – THE OMNICIDALIST
Sometimes you’re not looking for anything too clever or cerebral, you’re not interested in being challenged or tested… you just want to get loud and let the riffs do that talking.
And that’s exactly what you get with the debut from Sweden’s Omnicidal – ten tracks of raging riffery and mercilessly melodic hooks which wear their Dismember and At The Gates influences loudly and proudly, while still embracing a slightly more modern metallic approach reminiscent of artists like The Absence and The Black Dahlia Murder (especially on tracks like “Ten Shots” and “The Neverborn”, respectively).
Rapidly bouncing from one bombastic song to the next – the electrifying tremolo hooks of “By Knife” swiftly give way to the buzzsaw guitars and galloping grooves of “WWD”, which are in turn succeeded by the stomping rhythms and soaring leads of “The Passenger” (easily one of my favourite tracks on the album) and the thrashy, Crowned In Terror-esque “Cemetery Scream” – The Omnicidalist keeps the energy levels, and the heaviness (give “The Reaping” a listen ASAP), high throughout its ferociously focussed forty-one minute run-time, meaning you’re never more than a few moments away from a face-ripping riff or hellishly hooky chorus (with “Narcissistic Abuse” being a particular stormer).
At a time when the current wave of the OSDM revival feels overrun with bands trying to sell you yet another flavour of crusty Cannibal Corpse worship or find new, and ever more pretentious, ways to mimic Morbid Angel it’s actually pretty damn refreshing to hear a group like Omnicidal put so much focus on lean, mean songwriting and instantly infectious hooks while still delivering all the classic bite and brute force that the genre is known for.
So don’t let this one pass you by. You’ll regret it if you do!
SLEEPSCULPTOR – DIVINE RECALIBRATION
What’s in a name? Or, to be more specific, what’s in a genre-name?
You see, Divine Recalibration does a lot of things that could earn it different tags… it’s a bit Tech Death, a bit Mathcore, a bit Grind, a bit Djent, a bit Deathcore… but it’s not really any one of those things, sharing as much in common with the likes of Ion Dissonance and Car Bomb (the latter especially) as it does Fawn Limbs and Frontierer, while also owing (if my ears do not deceive me) a fair debt to early Slipknot and pre-Vanity era Eighteen Visions as well.
In lesser hands – and lesser bands – this could, of course, be an absolute mess (and I’ve listened to enough albums and artists who seem to think that just randomly, and impotently, mashing up ideas and influences somehow qualifies as “genius”) but Sleepsculptor have that undeniable x-factor which enables them to weld all these potentially disparate elements together into something that’s both endlessly surprising and surprisingly cohesive.
Don’t believe me? Then just give a listen to the stunning staccato riffs and deviously discordant twists of “Shattered Nerve” or the Tech-Grind assault of “Second Sight”. Then subject your aching eardrums to the blistering blend of barely-controlled chaos and brutal, bludgeoning beatdowns that is “Venerate” and its arguably even more crushing companion “Beyond the Veil”. Or maybe you’d prefer to skip straight to the relentless rolling breakdown that makes up “Pry”, or the mind-bending metallic madness of “Plaster Saint”?
The point is that, wherever you choose to start with this record (and, honestly, I recommend just strapping in for the whole ridiculous ride) you’re going to find something that hits really fucking hard, and often from an angle you don’t see coming. But that’s part of the joy of this album. You never know quite what’s coming next. You just know it’s going to be good.
NEBULAE COME SWEET…. what a great discovery!!!!!! It’s definitely a breath of fresh air among so many proposals that follow the same pattern of “revival” in which the scene is going today. Thanks Andy.
Sleepsculptor are the shit. Glad to see them here.