(Andy Synn offers up another triple-taste of British steel)
Let me tell you something, the last quarter of this year is absolutely packed with awesome (and potentially awesome) new releases.
And that’s just as true when you take a look at the UK scene too, with a bunch of big names and new contenders scheduled to drop their proverbial bombs over the next couple of months.
As a primer for all that, I’ve selected three albums – two from last month, one set for release next week – that I can practically guarantee are going to end up on several end-of-year lists.
They really are that good, embodying the best of the best of merciless Metallic Hardcore, audaciously unorthodox Black Metal, and dynamcally doomy, drone-inflected Post-Metal, respectively.
GEIST – BLUEPRINTS TO MODERATE SEDATION
We’ve written about devastatingly dark Hardcore heavyweights Geist a fair few times over the years – praising both their live shows and their recorded works – and every time we do it seems like they get a little heavier, a little more vicious, and a little more visceral… and Blueprints to Moderate Sedation (set for release next Friday) definitely continues this trend.
As utterly, unrelentingly ferocious as tracks like “Future Eaters” and “Every Aching Bone” are – channelling both the barely-controlled chaos of the band’s inner Converge and the ripping, crusty hooks of classic Martyrdöd, with the latter in particular serving as one of my favourite cuts on the entire album – it’s honestly surprising that the band didn’t spontaneously combust while in the studio, running as hot and burning as hard as they do.
Hell, as the almost Grindcore level of pissed-off, punky intensity propelling short, sharp, and sickeningly savage numbers such as “Peeling Wax” and the eye-poppingly aggressive “Panic Addicts” (another instant favourite) pulverises your eardrums with the sort of belt-fed, blast-fuelled brute force that recalls the explosive energy of bands like Anti Ritual and Disfear you might just be in danger of suddenly detonating yourself!
But while the group definitely excel at putting the pedal to the metal, they also have a knack for slowing things down and wallowing in the doomier, gloomier side of the Hardcore spectrum, whether that’s in the form of the moody opening passages of “One Less Leech” and “Helpless” or – even more prominently – during the claustrophobic crawl of “Vessel of Nothing” and the soul-crushing creep of “Terminal” (both of which prove that Geist are just as good, some might argue even better, when they go slower, and lower, and really grate ‘n’ grind the listener into dust).
And throughout it all there’s a sense of unfiltered venom and unadulterated passion underlying the entire record, with the band never holding back, and never compromising, in their delivery or their integrity with the end result being that – whether they’re burning rubber or stomping their audience into the dirt – Geist are set to leave their competition in the dust.
HAAR – OUROBOROS
Let’s get one thing straight right away – Ouroboros is one of the best Black Metal albums of the year. And one hell of a way for Haar to close out their career.
And as sad as I am to hear that the band are hanging up their instruments (though their members can still be heard plying their trade in other excellent bands like Ashenspire, Barshasketh, and Ageless Summoning) it has to be said that I can’t imagine them ever topping this one, so perhaps it’s for the best?
Clocking in at just over fifty minutes (not a second of which is wasted), these seven songs showcase the band’s unpredictable, unorthodox, and unflinchingly off-kilter approach to Black Metal – reminiscent of the the twisted technicality of Drottnar, the sinister strangeness of Blut Aus Nord, and the avant-garde abrasiveness of their old split-partners Ur Draugr – at its absolute best, with the group’s cunningly catchy songwriting style ably bolstered by their impressive (and unquestionable) instrumental abilities.
From the simmering, slow-burn dissonance of “A Prelude to Benumbing Ruin” through to the final fading notes of the compellingly contorted title-track, Ouroboros continually finds ways to upend your expectations while continually driving its hooks ever deeper into your brain.
Moment by moment the album’s tangled riffs continually coil and wind themselves into weird, non-euclidean shapes while its grisly grooves sink their barbed teeth into your eardrums. Drums time-shift through multiple different tempos and patterns without ever breaking the immersion, and lurid, nerve-jangling bass-lines throb and pulse with eerie, organic intensity. And, atop all of this, the gnarly, glass-chewing vocals deliver a series of sinister sermons brimming with discord and discontent.
The one downside of Ouroboros being as good as it is, of course, is that picking out specific highlights is a difficult task, but the piercing melodies of “A Boreal Tomb…”, the ever-present air of ominous, oppressive menace permeating “Refugia”, and the brilliantly moody, Khonsu-esque clean vocals which make their presence known amidst the crooked riffs and capricious percussive patterns of “A Bitter Assimilation”, all stick out to me as moments that will keep you coming back again and again, eager to discover another new angle or aspect to this marvellously multifaceted monster of an album.
THE SALT PALE COLLECTIVE – A BODY THAT COULD PASS THROUGH STONES AND TREES
Let’s face it, you only really get one chance to make a first impression, so you have to make it count. And The Salt Pale Collective‘s debut album is one stunning piece of humongously heavy, strikingly cinematic, post-apocalyptic Post-Doom that’s equal parts Junius, Locrian, Jesu, The Ocean… and more besides.
Although the best way to experience this album is as a singular, contiguous whole (and I think the band would agree, since they’ve given us the option to stream the whole thing as a single unbroken track) for the purposes of this review I’m going to address each of the record’s seven tracks as separate entities, even though they most definitely come together as a whole that’s greater than the mere sum of its parts.
If you’re looking for atmospheric depth and widescreen sonic cinematography then opener “Tria Prima” has you more than covered, while the subsequent storm of sound and fury (replete with an array of lurching riffs, lung-bursting vocals, and lambent melodies) that is “The Great Work” should more than satisfy anyone looking for a heavier dose of doomy Post-Metal dynamics (one whose heaviness is only enhanced by the moments of ambient minimalism injected at key points).
The eerie synth-strumental strains of “The Metabaron” then flip the album on its head – peaks and troughs being vital to its overall flow – before things get even heavier with the advent of “Exploding Triangles”, whose massive, earth-shaking riffs and squalling saxophone eventually give way to a gloomy, noir-ish grandiosity that’s equally as heavy in atmosphere and emotion.
With “Sermon of the Edacious Revenant” The Salt Pale Collective lean even more heavily on the Drone-Doom side of their sound, layering gigantic guitars, heart-rending howls, and keening clean vocals over a series of synthetic soundscapes whose depth of field and breadth of vision only seems to expand over the course of the song, after which the challenging, yet undeniably captivating, juxtaposition of menace and melody, heaviness and heartache, which defines the title-track only cements this album as something truly special.
Concluding with the punishing progressive power and artful ambient embellishments of “The King Crowned In Read” – a song which both sums up the album as a whole yet also opens the door towards future possibilities for the group – there’s no question that A Body That Could Pass Through Stones and Trees is destined to be considered one of the best debut albums, and quite possibly one of the best albums full stop, of 2023.