Friday 30 June 2023

Coffin Nail – The Hanged Man (2023) / 77%

Coughing up blood until my coffin is buried

This solo project of former Florida man Vok goes hard. It’s an amalgamation of different styles culminating in a take no prisoners assault for the body and the mind. Coffin Nail reminds me of the late Trap Them in how they’re able to mix hardcore/grindcore with metal genres like death metal without losing anything in the process.

Coffin Nail is like this really spicy cajun rub for chicken combining super chonky grind, death metal, hardcore punk but also some sludge, maybe extreme thrash/crossover, industrial vibes and hyper fast black metal (in spirit) as well. It’s unrelenting material with a dark, murderous era alternating between crushingly heavy slower stuff like the intro or “These Are Dead, They Feel Not” or just viciously fast like “Strangling Gallows”. There’s also a few nice surprises like the piano interlude of “Due Note in nero” or the saxophone solo of “Brood Parasites”. It’s full of catchy riffs (“Hammers and Chains” has an infectious one) and simple yet highly effective songwriting. The vocals are tenebrous snarling harsh vocals, quite fitting and well executed. The production is warm, natural and lets the violence shine. It’s sharp and fiery as a lightning bolt, I feel that the combination between aggression and thoughtful (enough) musicianship. Worth checking before going to the gallows.


Thursday 29 June 2023

Ancient Seance - Cryptic (2018) / 85%

Digitally Challenged: Part 8 - Cryptic

This power trio from Chicago dropped one of the best heavy metal demos of the last ten years with Cryptic and I’m still hoping for a full length to drop one of those days. Same for one of their main comparisons, Detroit’s Demon Bitch. Ancient Seance’s Syl Smith is active with the solid USPM quintet Munition (worth checking out!) but I hope he can come back to this band. It’s a pretty raw demo for the genre, it’s not clean or anything but I think it adds something worthy to their sound. It’s unsweetened heavy metal and it’s fine that it’s rough around the edges, I personally like it and find it endearing, it’s something I like in bands such as Scalare, Molten Chains or Darkthrone with material like The Underground Resistance.

It’s fairly inaccessible as far as heavy metal goes, the vocals are diverse, from high pitched to a more standard clean voice combined with wizardly harsh ones. Musically, it ranges to speedier trad metal to bass heavy atmospheric heavy/doom (the first part of Cryptic Lullaby) that sounds like a more arcane and obscure take on Alice in Chains to the more unhinged sound that’s “popular” in the Michigan trad metal scene (a sort of intense Thin Lizzified Mercyful Fated style of metal). It’s well written, well played and like I said, it’s not diminished by the non-Nuclear Blast production. The bass is thick, the drumming is natural, authentic and picks up the pace well and the guitar playing is relatively inventive for the style. Very very good demo, I want more.


Lividus – Teratorns (2023) / 83%


Uta is back!

I was pretty shaken by Uta Plotkin’s departure from Witch Mountain almost ten years ago. I guess I’m fine now, it’s been a while, come on Tony! After leaving the Portland doom band, she became a yoga teacher but didn’t do a lot musically (at least stuff that’s been released) but I was glad to learn that she was back with a new band. Teratorns is the second extended play by Lividus and it bangs hard.

Plotkin’s minimal use of harsh vocals in Witch Mountain (see the albums South of Salem or Cauldron of the Wild) was enjoyable even though I really loved her clean ones. They have a bigger spotlight here and it doesn’t disappoint. The second track “The Witness” is an even mix of gnarly slicing harsh vocals and high pitched powerful cleans and it works well, I was happy to hear her amazing voice again. Musically, we’re somewhere else from Witch Mountain, it’s quite interesting too. Drummer Pierce Williams ( Ænigmatum, Skeletal Remains, Torture Rack...) and guitarist Rob Shaffer (Dark Castle, Lord Dying...) are in the lineup and they’re both super talented musicians adding their influences to the fold. I’d say that this is some sort of avant garde progressive death/thrash/extreme metal, there’s dissonance, fast death metal riffs (check out the opener “Tis’forundal”) and intense blastbeats. All this is intertwined with Plotkin’ fantastic use of layered vocals singing dark poetic lyrics. The three tracks are all fairly short and fast and doesn’t mess around. The band sorts of reminds me of Voivod in how peculiar they are.

Lividus are able to combine dissonance, darkness and experimental ideas with a melodic approach, it’s surprising and takes a few interesting turns throughout the eleven minutes duration of this release that I’ve put on repeat, it’s quite good and I’m stoked to hear what they’ll do next.


Wednesday 28 June 2023

Gates of Londra - Servants of the Runestaff (2022) / 88%?


I’ll gladly serve the Runestaff as well

Vienna's Gates of Londra, the union of J.M (Brånd, Weathered Crest, Eisenhand...) and R.F (Parasite Dreams, Peace Vaults...) gave us one of the most impressive releases of 2022. It was definitely one of my most played releases of last year due to its short length but also the high quality of its musical content and the various influences contained into such a judiciously compact package.

After a demo rooted mostly in raw black metal, the duo has expanded their formula to include everything but the kitchen sink. Their black metal core is augmented by industrial, post punk/deathrock, dungeon synth and uh, probably other things I’m forgetting right now but rest assured, it's there. Most importantly, it all works together to create a cohesive experience. It has this charming epic approach mixed with a do it yourself attitude and a love for fantasy and synths.

Their themes are important to the whole thing as well, it’s all about the writing of champion Michael Moorcock, the second most popular fantasy writer after Tolkien for metal bands. They had to be different from their older brothers of Summoning somehow (even if yes, I know Moorcock is present in Silenius and Protector’s works). Let’s be frank here, a black metal duo with synths singing about fantasy and from Austria? You could consider them a clone before listening to them. In the end, it’s very different in how it sounds and it’s presented. It’s brief bursts of insanity intertwined with soothing, video game atmospheric moody music (check out the outro) and that’s like combining The Elder Scrolls with late 70s, early 80s British post punk. It’s very idiosyncratic and just straight up very interesting. The presence of samples of old fantasy men talking (I don’t know the sources, possibly audiobooks of Moorcock's Hawkmoon?) adds another layer of odd details that I loved. Never enough grand speeches done by wizards, not gonna lie.

The synths are in your face but the acerbic guitars are as well, it’s a good combination of the two and there’s good riffs on Servants of the Runestaff. The drumming is a drum machine and it adds to the repetitiveness and industrial feels of the album, I find it enjoyable. It’s geeky but also quite powerful and robust in some way. Similar to Elric of Melniboné and other eternal champions, I guess!

Gates of Londra is not gonna be for everyone but I do think black metal is in a super innovative era right now and it’s fun to see bands go wild like they do. It’s not just the mixing of influences, it goes beyond that. It’s mixing the old and the new, the metal with the non-metal with ease and precision while maintaining a raw and distinctive feel.


Tuesday 27 June 2023

Parish – Parish (2022) / 78%

Freshly cut grass and lightly fried fish filet from the local tavern with room temp ale

The English label Crypt of the Wizard (great name) has been releasing a few bangers recently with the traditional doom metal of Woe, the Lord of the Rings’ heavy rock of Riders of Rohan and more interestingly in our case, the first releases of London’s Parish. Their formula is highly enjoyable and intensely catchy. Let’s see why.

I see Parish as a sort of heavier response to the pastoral christian heavy metal/hard rock of fellow brits Wytch Hazel. While the band led by Jesus’ favourite troubadour Colin Hendra leans more towards Thin Lizzy or Jethro Tull, Parish are huge Sabbath simps and I love it. Their 70s sound is mixing ethereal vocals (see Ghost, the vocal approach is similar) with a folk tinged doom metal approach paying homage to the greats (see Budgie, Witchfinder General, Sabbath but also Wishbone Ash). Their songs are about witches, the countryside, wenches, taverns and other occult stuff. It's their bread and butter and I’ll spread their themes all over my buns for sure. It’s fun stuff and packs an extra punch.

The power trio rocks, it’s a tight forty minutes album without any filler, it’s direct and to the point. The riffs are solid (see “Cunning Murell”) albeit the band is somewhat generic and owes a lot to what came before them. That’s a stylistic choice, it’s hard to make “new” classic traditional heavy/doom anyway. To me, they’re both heavy and soothing at the same time, I think that’s a rare feat. A band like Pagan Altar has it as well.

Parish possess this ghostly quality that makes them stand out (somewhat) from the doom crowd. I do think that there’s some added elements that makes them worth your time if your itch of checking new bands is present but  after a while, it becomes somewhat tiring and it's not really an album I'll revisit often instead of hitting the doom classics. Still worthwhile though! It's good English countryside heavy/doom that smells like freshly cut grass with the light aroma of fried fish filet.


Monday 26 June 2023

Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom – Summoning the Gatekeepers (2023) / 85%


English Breakfast Chapter 4: Blood Pudding

On their first full length album in more than a decade, the criminally unknown English duo are back with an unrivalled passion for underground metal. Their super good 2020 extended play signalled that the boys were done with what seemed to be some sort of hiatus and this was good news. This band is like this classic English ale that’s kept secret and only exists because their creators love their craft so much. Nothing else matters.

Each of their albums are quite different from each other, from the stoner doom influences of their debut to the more pastoral black metal sound of Battle Staffs in the Mushroom Woods, they’ve been releasing interesting stuff since the start. Summoning the Gatekeepers is no exception. In fact, I see it as a culmination of their influences or at the very least, it was a logical step for them to take. It's a stroll in the forest and never a walk in the park with them.

What we have here is a condensed, tight and upfront epic black metal album. It might be the album where they’re the best at mixing the many elements composing their English breakfast. Sure, there’s still some hints of crust, some hints of English doom but like in a good homemade bread, you will not think it’s too salty even if there’s the right amount of salt in the recipe. Their formula works because the recipe has been tested and edited many times.

From the acoustic guitars of the evocative “Twisted Tree”, the longest track of the record to the crackling of fire and the storm ambiance, there’s some English epicness in their sound but it's never too much or cheesy, it's kept minimal. They’re also able to season their late Darkthrone black metal with post punk (see the middle section of “Ragged Brothers”) but for the most part, it’s a pretty even affair. It’s a relatively midpaced record and there’s not a lot of tempo variations, at least not super jarring ones that made me scream “damn they sped things up!”. It’s made up of slow, heavy riffs with a nice back end like the lovely crusty bass of “Ashes” for example. it’s meat and potatoes metal but with some good butter and herbs, a recipe you can find in medieval cookbooks luckily preserved in the untouched cellar of an English pub.

The raspy vocals, the way the guitar parts are written and the honest, highly rustic lyrical hemes are all things speaking to me. It’s a record worth your time if you value the simplest things in life and prefer your beer without anything fancy in it.


Tuesday 7 June 2022

Baazlvaat - An Old Forgotten Text (2022) / 85%


A New Merging of Genres

This mysterious entity from Flint, Michigan, a location I know only because of its controversial water, delivers another bewildering ride of an album. Last year's The Higher Power was a surprising record that made a few waves here and there and this one just expands on the themes previously explored there. Before we go any further I need to say that I disagree with the assessment that many people share about metal, it's not stale or a dead genre. There's a lot of experimentation to be found and Baazlvaat are a band that's not afraid to burn the house down and rebuild it with funkier components.

Baazlvaat are sort of like Black Magick SS if they weren't masturbating to Nazi imagery and were, for the most part, actually playing metal.They're the sort of band with a solid main identity in one particular style (in their case it's black metal) who's also adding an array of extraneous elements. I'm a big fan of kitchen sink bands such as Leeches of Lore, Tjolgtjar or Bretwaldas of Heathen Doom and this American duo certainly explored the fridge thoroughly.

They merge the exploratory side of psych rock, the loose aspects of lo fi rock, the rawness of black metal, the synth presence of dungeon synth/synthpop/symphonic black metal or the playfulness melodicism of heavy metal. This exhausting list creates one pungent mix of influences that's hard to classify or pinpoint but easy to get entranced by. It's not a confused mess at all, there's an assurance in their varied but cohesive songs that's hard to ignore.

A song like "Three Heads from the Black Depths" evokes the retro groovy rock/metal of Uncle Acid or Graveyard but adds piano and unhinged raw harsh vocals while a song like "Cold Sky Ice Frosten'" brings forth a sort of shred heavy metal mood. Furthermore, there's a Middle-eastern break in the final track followed by clean vocals akin to lo-fi epic heavy metal and there's a blues/country break in "The Missing Key". It's insane.

The pièce de résistance of the album is certainly the almost nine minutes "The Iron Lung", a monumental epic black/heavy metal track and it reminds me of both Agatus and Wytch Hazel (the dandyness in the riffing) in spirit but it's combined with a sort of outsider art approach that makes it peculiar. Still,the most important is the quality of their compositions and they deliver that in spades and while it overstays its welcome a bit, the album has no real weak moments. An Old Forgotten Text is definitely not for everyone and its originality resides in the merging of existing elements instead of the creation of new ones but the ability of combining styles well is still a feat in itself.