Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Khôrada - Salt (2018) / 90%




Tasty like salt-cured pork

After the highly publicized dissolution of Agalloch, one of this generation’s most important band, we were promised two different projects by its members. Pillorian was formed by the “leader” John Haughm who received a lot of flack for the way Agalloch ended and the three other members (Don Anderson, Jason William Walton and Aesop Dekker) decided to join forced with Aaron John Gregory from California’s Giant Squid, recently put on hold

I’m not gonna do a review within a review but it’s hard to talk about this album without talking about Pillorian too. I was far from thrilled with the new project from Haughm and the way he pushed his fellow band members under the bus definitely left a sour taste in my mouth. Pillorian’s Obsidian Arc felt like an unfinished continuation of Agalloch’s black metal identity. While competent, it didn’t impress me and I thought originality was lacking. While the album was released, I had high hopes when Gregory was announced to be a part of the second band as Giant Squid’s Minoans was one of my favorite albums of 2014. My hope wasn’t misplaced as this a grand and epic album.

We’re served seven elaborated pieces of music all furnished with elaborate rhythms and time signatures while remaining fairly melodic and atmospheric. The influences of Sculptured (Don Anderson’ band who’s been quiet since 2008) and Giant Squid are fairly present but it’s its own thing. Their style is fairly hard to categorize (which frankly can often be an inane thing to do) as they mix a lot of different styles into one really solid amalgam. While heavy enough to be seen or considered as metal, there’s a smooth feel throughout the whole record. Dekker’s intense and uncompromising drumming casts light where darkness is present and the guitars of Anderson and Gregory have never felt so vibrantly intelligent. From quasi funeral doom to blackened elegance, songs like “Seasons of Salt” encompass their whole sound in a compact nine minutes. It’s fast, elegant and can bring back some of the late 90s avant garde/doom/gothic/progressive death black sound found in Northern Europe, something Agalloch was also quite fond of.

There’s a lot of subtle surprises on Salt. From the ode to family that is “Augustus” which feels like a mix between a lullaby and some folky gospel to the quasi synthwave overture of the closing song “Ossify”. Let’s not forget the beautiful opening of “Glacial Cold” with its cello. Despite those moments, the album is a constant masterpiece without any boring sections or unnecessary parts. Aaron John Gregory’s vocals are surely the highlights for me. From raw and deep to soft and charismatic, he did a great job at the helm of Khôrada. He reminds me of Alan Averill (Primordial) with the way he can make clean vocals an eerie affair and still maintains an aura of darkness with the combination of his lyrical prowess and vocal exercises.

Gregory also wrote all the lyrics which are painting a pretty grim portrayal of Earth’s natural equilibrium. “Water Rights” speaks of how profit is ruining our resources and “Wave State” talks about how we’ll be destroyed by a drought and possibly engulfed under water as the Earth is destroyed. Regardless of the lyrical matter, I feel that their music isn’t without hope and the album serves more as a conceptual lecture about what sort of catastrophes the future has in stock for us than an arrogant warning written by someone who joined Greenpeace last week.

Nature is convinced
it's time for a sixth
extinction event
before man has the chance
to gnaw her to the bone



While I loved the album, I’m sure Khôrada can actually do better and I have high hopes for their future. Salt is both bright and grim, it’s both balanced and inventive and never forgets to be profound while maintaining an accessible approach.




Friday, 20 April 2018

Smoulder – The Sword Woman (2018) / 84%


Engrossing magical doom



With the recent releases of Palmistry, Loviatar and Sons of Geezora, Canadian doom continues to grow and impress. It’s now the time for Smoulder to join the war against bad riffs. I had the chance to hear some of their early demos when Sarah and Shawn crashed at Metantoine’s headquarters for the final edition of Wings of Metal last year and I was pretty dazzled by what they showed me. Almost a year after that, their first foray into doom is out and it doesn’t disappoint.

Smoulder exactly has the things I like in doom. It has solid, heavy riffs, soaring clean, semi-operatic vocals and a gritty fantasy approach. Influenced by the balls to the wall sound of The Gates of Slumber, the intelligent epic side of Solitude Aeternus and the uncompromising ideals of Reverend Bizarre. The Canadian core of Sarah and Shawn joined by three other members including some Americans (two members of Illinois’ Olórin) displays a deep understanding of what traditional or epic doom metal stands for and what it should be. Shawn Vincent already showed his above than average metalness with his solo heavy project Ezra Brooks (covered by yours truly) and currently handles the bass with the impressive Toronto unit Manacle. Sarah works as a metal journalist and she’s in the music industry but this was the first time her vocals were recorded and she does a great job, she sounds like a young Valkyrie who will only get better as time goes by. The mix of her vocals and the groovy, impatient riffs reminds me of Mourn's sole album released more than twenty years ago and that's not a small deed since I consider that self-titled album to be the best female fronted doom album of all time.

The twin guitars add a complexity often found in bands like Atlantean Kodex, Pagan Altar or Solstice and the loud bass fills any void that could have been there. Check out the interesting bass break in "Voyage of the Maiden Chaser"! Overall, the musicianship is tremendous but it's never overly flashy. Nevertheless, I would have liked a longer, slower track but that’s just me. I feel those long ass songs truly show what a doom band is capable of! Maybe they’ll unleash one on their debut full-length.

Even though it was released on 4/20, there’s nothing related to weed culture here. It’s seriously engrossing sword and sorcery doom of the highest caliber. Get this demo as soon as possible.



Smoulder on Bandcamp

Friday, 16 February 2018

Basalte - Vertige (2018) / 95%





The Righteous Mastery of Atmosphere and Might

Basalte’s debut album was a thoroughly impressive piece of Quebec black metal and it impressed the hell out of me when it was released in 2014. Four years after “Vestige”, they’re back with “Vertige”, an album with an intricate and exhaustive sonic approach. The work on the production was meticulous, almost to the point of being monastic and it paid off.

Between the two records, the trio became a quartet when they got a full time bassist and he now contributes to the songwriting while improving the live performances of the band. They also played a special, secretive gig in the forest back in 2016 in front of about fifty people (including yours truly) and it added an aura of mystery and DIY attitude to the project. After that, their drummer was flown to Indonesia for a year to study music and while it made the recording process more complicated, it will certainly add something extraneous to the band’s future compositions. After L.’s return in August 2017, they finished the album, played one of their first gigs in a while when they opened for Falls of Rauros and now, they just released their sophomore effort. An album I had to chance to digest a bit before the actual release. It’s not an easy piece of art to assimilate but it’s a rewarding one.

Let’s not waste any time here, “Vertige” is an excellent album and it will certainly end up to be one of the most memorable and essential black metal albums of 2018. The four extended tracks are vast and filled to the brim with riffs, interesting time signatures, emotional tremolos and intense but yet natural drumming. The bass acts as the icing on the cake while the subtle, electronic bits can be seen as an added layer to their solid foundations. The vocal approach (three different vocalists but all four members sing live nowadays) is full of raw strength and unwieldy passion. From high pitched screeches to deep and buried aggression, their palette has a wide variety of colours, mostly shades of black and grey though but you don’t need anything else.

The guitars are loud, heavy, distorted but clean at the same time. The interplay between the two guitarists is always joyous but what they play is downright dark and brooding. Furthermore, the production did wonders to highlight all the instruments in a clear but troubling raw way and I’m glad they took their time to truly craft their songs like they wanted to.

Interestingly enough, they’ve always had an urban approach. While I thought “Vestige” explored the figurative and literal decay found in urbanity, “Vertige” acts as the opposite. It seems to look for the suffering in newer, modern and seemingly intact structures (as seen on the artwork) and that’s a fresh way to grow as a sonic storyteller. This research, reflected through their music, puts them at odds with the rest of atmospheric black metal, often busy contemplating waterfalls and picturesque landscapes. What Basalte declares with their poetic but somber lyrics speaks of neurosis, claustrophobia or apathy. Concepts I personally consider to be related to the city life.

The best bands are often hard to categorize and it’s true here as well. Basalte doesn’t play safe and adds a wide array of other styles to their formula and not just as afterthoughts or sprinkles of “hey listen to our prog metal section!”, it’s integrated within their songs and effectively changed their identity. The main aspect is surely the hardcore presence (“Acouphène” is the best example) but there’s loads of post-whatever (or whatever the hell is “atmospheric sludge”), shoegaze and ambient elements. Regardless of what Basalte play as a genre (it’s ultimately unimportant), there’s nothing faulty, boring or unpleasant on “Vertige”. What’s also worth mentioning is that the Montréal quartet never forgets to unleash the heaviness and riffs, “La sclérose coule dans ses veines” even goes into funeral doom territory with great results.

“Vertige” is a modern masterpiece transcending the outlines of what black metal should be in 2018. I mean, Deafheaven should be opening for ‘em. They’re a revamped, hungry and evolving band that’s pushing the envelope into foreign but exciting directions. Full support.


Bandcamp
Tape release