After three weeks away from home working my day job I’m finally back. It was a stressful and often bizarre experience, made worse by the absence of my spouse and cats, and worse still because I had no time to listen to music, much less write about it.
That may sound weird. There’s always time to listen to music, isn’t there? In my case, it just didn’t fit what I was doing, too much of a distraction instead of a companion. Especially when it comes to metal, my brain’s not wired to combine even less raucous variants of music with trying to concentrate hard on something else. So I was forced to take a very long hiatus, the longest one in the 14+ years I’ve spent in devotion to NCS.
Andy and DGR stepped up and kept the site from going dark, and a few other writers continued sending things in too. But we’ve still got a backlog of un-published material to bring to the surface, mainly a big slug of interviews from Comrade Aleks. Other backlogs will never be fixed.
For one thing, I’ve abandoned the idea of trying to do the annual Most Infectious Extreme Metal Song list, the only list I contribute to our year-end Listmania extravaganza. It’s almost February, and that really seems too late to continue reflecting on what last year brought us. Doing it would also distract from resuming a focus on what’s happening now, and what’s coming.
The other backlog that won’t get fixed is a month’s worth of new songs, videos, and complete releases that have come out since I was forced to begin my day-job hiatus, i.e., the kind of stuff I normally would have put on my list of candidates for this Saturday column, and for the Shades of Black column I usually pull together for Sundays.
Over the last month I just had no mental space even to pay attention to what was coming out, much less listening to it. The backlog is so big that, sadly, I’m not even going to try to search out what I missed. It’s going to have to stay a blank space in my existence. Instead, I’ll just start listening again to what I’ve noticed very recently.
I should add that the hiatus isn’t completely over. There’s still about three more weeks of shit I have to do to finish that project for my job. It’s not as overwhelming as what I had to do over the last month, and I can do it from home, but it’s still going to interfere with me getting completely back into NCS. So there will probably still be weekends in the near future when I don’t write the usual columns, and weekdays when I don’t do the usual volume of premieres or editing.
What’s more, scaling back may outlast the final end of that day-job project. The stress of the last month has made me welcome the idea of getting rid of as much stress as I can, including the stress of having a lot to do for NCS every day. And yes, there’s stress in that, even though it’s always accompanied by evil-minded fun.
Speaking of evil-minded fun, here’s just a few things I managed to check out this morning, just a few things to share before I have to bend my knee to the fucking day job again today.
(This seems like a good time to remind people that I didn’t intend the “Random Fucking Music” tag on this column to mean that you can use the choices as background music for random fucking. I intended it to mean that my choices could be seen as fucking random, because of the fucking randomness of what I choose to listen too. That was especially true today.)
CAVE SERMON (Australia)
This one-person project made instrumental metal on its first recordings in 2021, including a debut album named Memory Spear. But on the second album, released on January 18th, the project’s mastermind enlisted vocals from Miguel Méndez of MICO, and the results will likely floor you, even if you were a fan of the previous Cave Sermon releases. Divine Laughter sure as hell floored me.
The music on the new album is a cauldron of extreme ingredients. At a full boil it incorporates roiling and raging riffage delivered at a crossroads of scarring abrasion and piercing clarity, full-tilt drum mania that batters like crowbars and blasts like guns going off right outside your window, and of course a full panoply of guttural roaring and larynx-straining howls, all of them electrifying.
At lower heat, however, the music rings and wails, sometimes with orchestration, and it sounds like the shimmering music of the spheres and a haunting of specters. At other times glinting notes and musing bass tones create elegant spells, wistful and wondrous in their moods.
In between, Cave Sermon ruthlessly slugs and jackhammers in a mission to leave no concrete (and no skulls) un-fractured, augmented by brazen blaring chords, insectile fretwork that sizzles and shrieks, and clarion-clear solos that channel madness un-caged and sorrow untreated.
The songs frequently hit so hard they might make you weak in the knees, but they’re equally potent as crazed mind-spinners or ice-cold frighteners, as troughs of no hope or the stuff of mesmerizing yet uneasy dreams.
The changes are around nearly every corner, to keep you on your toes but glued in place. The biggest head-spinners are the two longest tracks on the album (very long indeed), “The Paint of An Invader” and the title song. More time means more movements, more moods, more surprises, more contrasts. If you want to see what’s on the other side of the album’s door before walking all the way in, try one of those.
And the vocals do make a powerful difference — pure raging hostility, desperation, and agony recorded in a crypt, and fueled by an intensity of emotion that matches the startling intensity of the instrumentation. (The Bandcamp stream includes all the eloquent lyrics, and they’re well worth reading.)
For those in need of genre references, I suppose I would mention an amalgam of post-metal, black metal, and sludge. For the first full album I’ve listened to since my long hiatus began, I couldn’t have hoped for a better one. As one of the Bandcamp commenters wrote, “what a time to be alive!”
My second choice for today is a very selfish one. This single is here not merely because, like today’s first choice, it floored me, but also because I want Salqiu to continue making music.
That’s not a given. Indeed, before the release of this single on January 7th I’d heard that the person behind Salqiu (Nuno Lourenço) was laying it to rest forever, and maybe separating from music-making altogether for an indefinite time. The new single shows what a sad denouement that would have been for those who relish unorthodox music.
“A tale of defiance, of truths untold” is the song’s name. Lyrically, it tells the tale of the seraphim Gabriel’s fall from heaven, and the demonic metamorphosis to come. If the song leaves an overarching impression, it’s a very haunting one, a pageant of tragedy, of lost glory, and of an evil born.
But it is a kind of pageant, a progression of changes. It includes explosive detonations, abyssal abrasiveness, writhing guitar emanations, and skull-popping beats, like the subterranean undulations of a massive serpent with a frantic heart. Ghastly growls, distorted snarls, and ragged words add to the chills the song lays upon the flesh.
The music also includes the wails of a heavenly choir, the sorrowful ring of keys, and slowly heaving bass tones, wandering as if lost. The vocals split open into screams and gasps as the wails sweep across the upper reaches. The keyboards beckon while the drums turn acrobatic. What lies ahead in Hell, “as the abyss consumes the celestial sprite”? I hope Salqiu will stay around and show us.