Friday, February 16, 2018

Atomwinter - Catacombs (2018)

I have to give credit where credit is due, and the cover to the third Atomwinter album, Catacombs, is a total classic, one of my faves thus far in 2018...with its creepy vagina dentata, loads of visceral details, squirming things every where, and some of the longest forked tongues I've ever seen. I mean as disgusting as this place looks, it's one i want to explore, one I want to send my 9th level RPG character to experience, and my hats off to the band for choosing it to represent them. Now it's almost impossible that any death metal record is going to live up to the imagery and mood established by such a cover, and Catacombs assuredly does not, but if this one were released in the mid-90s it would certainly be rated among the classic images we relate to the medium, even with its black & white format. And rightly so.

As for Atomwinter's actual music, they've been around for some years now, helping add Germany to the roster of national scenes that support throwback death metal, and while I've never been terribly impressed by their output, it's archetypal and competent. The same can be said here, for an album that offers no surprises whatsoever, but has quality production, a true old school veneer and still packs enough of a punch that genre diehards looking for their fix probably won't regret checking this one out, even moreso than either 2012's Atomic Death Metal or 2015's Iron Flesh. The clear reference point for me is mid or moderate paced death via the UK or Netherlands scenes, more specifically a mix of Asphyx and Bolt Thrower, with a doomier finale in "Funeral of Flesh" that reminded me a bunch of vintage Autopsy, only more polished. So in general you're dealing with churning guitars, recorded in a tone redolent of the classic Swedish camp, but not quite so overdriven as some. A lot of the riffs border on grind in the same way their influences do, but on the other end they'll splay out some super simplified, sparser chord segments which remind me of the slower Obituary material back in that band's earlier era.

Olle Holzschneider's vocals don't often belt out interesting or nuanced lines, but he does a fair job of keeping them grisly and charismatic, just not to the level of a Martin van Drunen. But they do work really well with this extremely straightforward brand of death. A loud, firm growl over music that is basically built to be cranked. The drumming is tight, the energy hellish, and there were a few points through the album where some genuinely dark, evil riff erupted. They don't work with a tone of leads or melodies, but where they do spit out the former, you'll get something frilly and vibrant that works well above the pummeling undercurrents. The cello intro was also a pretty cool touch, though I would have been thrilled if they actually incorporated this through the meatier tracks, would have made this album instantly something different. And that's kind of where this album falters, as it's just so obvious and familiar throughout the entire run that it gets lost in the memory with so many other midlisters. Just a few less overt choices in chords, a little more dissonance, some stranger chord structures, all would contribute to making a better album than this; but as it stands, Catacombs is not something to scoff at, and if you had a vinyl of this lying around, I'm sure it would draw attention from your creepy (and therefore awesome) friends.

Verdict: Win [7/10]
https://www.facebook.com/Atomwinter

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Blooming Carrions - Necrosis Twilight [demo] (2018)

Necrosis Twilight is a promising if marginally flawed entry into the realms of caustic and cavernous Finnish death metal, not entirely reliant upon mimicking its influences, but close enough in countenance that many will lump it in a lot of its peers. I was drawn to this by the creepy band name, the even creepier black & white cover artwork and just the fact that I've been a fan of this stuff going on back to the Demilich, Convulse, Demigod and ancient Sentenced years, and ultimately impressed that this was all put together by a single musician covering all the instruments. The two tracks are admittedly a little bit fattened at a respective 9 and 7 minutes long, and don't possess a gulf of internal variety that really deserves that amount of corpulence, but as an EP it wasn't a case where I really found myself bored, and there isn't an insane amount of repetition, I simply felt that more ambiance or atmospheric breaks would have rounded out the existing, suffocating riff set to make for a more memorable demo.

The vocals are a massive, sustained, often howled guttural in the Craig Pillard vein, where they themselves transmogrify into mostly an atmospheric effect rather than a syllabic labyrinth. The guitars morph between old school, 80s Death-like Floridian evil fluidity, only rawer, and then higher, more melodic sheen tremolo picked breaks that I found were the most interesting. Bass guitars are turbid in the mix, but don't break away from the rhythm guitar patterns all that commonly; where as the drums are a bit of a complaint...functional and frenzied, but often just provide a clamorous backbone to the weight of the riffs, and don't really deviate or impress by themselves. Altogether, though, Blooming Carrions achieves its goal of fearful, morbid, asphyxiating, subterranean escapism. Murk and deep earth and dancing shadows and apparitions. Not so much that it can stick its neck out far from the pack of death metal bands this last decade, who all pursue similar aesthetics, but if you're a big fan of the darker, roiling acts on the Dark Descent roster, or you scour the mortal realm for obscure cassette-death, then I think this is an act to keep an eye on. Or rather an ear, to the muddy convulsions below, which might one day belch this forth like a visceral geyser from the deep underground if a bit more balance and nuance is attained.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Monolithe - Nebula Septem (2018)

Seven minstrels. Seven tracks. Seven minutes a piece. Seven tones. Seven letters of the alphabet to start the song titles. Nebula Septem. One might ascertain that there was something unusual and 'celestial' about the structure that doom mavens Monolithe have adopted for their... seventh album (of course), but that's not the only quirk that went into this piece. Nebula is quite likely their most dynamic and musical expression in terms of how much effort went into the riff building and melodic execution, and a lot of that has to do with how they've gradually evolved away from their excessively long in the tooth roots. A quartet of 50+ minute uni-track albums gave way to more digestible, but still chunky 15-minute triads on their last pair of albums Epsilon Aurigae and Zeta Reticuli, and now they've cut even those down in half. The consistency of mathematical patterns in their output almost seems to be building some cosmic convergence, some formula that might be hidden to us all until its two late and their deathly Franco doom cracks the heavens and replaces the oxygen of our atmosphere with pure chemical despair.

In the meantime, they've written a damn fine record, which I don't have a hell of a lot to compare to; busily shifting tectonic chord patterns glazed over with immediate and often desperate harmonies, with some fundamental rhythmic variations in cuts like "Anechoic Aberration" that leave me with a prog death impression not unlike the one Dan Swanö put together for his solo album Moontower, only not so busy, nor heavily reliant on the Moog organ sounds. Here the synthesizers peel off into the atmospherics created by the guitar melodies, to give an almost aurora-like counterbalance to the drudgery below, Rémi Brochard's guttural bellows creating just the right amount of sustain to emulate what must be the ultimate 'death metal vocalist floating through space...only you can hear him' sort of ambiance, straight to your ears, splattered well on the peak of the instruments without displacing or drowning them off in the vacuum. There's a constant sense of interplanetary tension that courses through the album, which is aesthetically consistent even through the mutation of the chords and the plodding, passionate fills and beats being strewn out terrestrial-like before them. But it's not always the frightening sort...you feel like you're not only seeing celestial bodies contract and collapse, but burst into existence like bright sonorous beacons that dance off across impossible distances.

It's really interesting to me how, even though they're not always paced equally or assembled in the precise same manner, how having each track at the same length creates a cerebral uniformity. I'm sure there is some scientific term for this, but I'm simply not used to it when 99.99% of all the music I absorb is broken up into longer/shorter pieces across albums, interludes and intros and outros and all that jazz. In a way, you could look at this simply as one of their first four records if it were just divided into seven, because the material itself is unquestionably fluid in stylistic decisions and instrumentation. There are only brief segways, usually in track intros like the Tangerine Dream-esque set-ups for "Fathom the Deep" and "Gravity Flood", but even these can be relied upon to rupture into splendorous misery through the growling and power chords. If you're at all enamored with the 'cosmic' in your musical purchases, or you like doom to be accessible and multi-faceted without transplanting its slow-beating, elegaic heart, then I'd say this band has long been a must for your attentions. Nebula Septem is no exception...lavish, professional, exploratory but stable. Perhaps not exceedingly memorable when broken down into its seven constituent parts, but taken as a whole it hits 'experience' level. So check that your suit is sealed, that your water and primary oxygen tanks are filled, that your battery is at full power. All life support go. And climb aboard for a glimpse of the formidable, beautiful beyond. You won't have to keep your arms and legs in the vehicle, there's plenty of room out there to shake them around.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10] 


https://www.facebook.com/monolithedoom

Monday, February 5, 2018

Spite - Antimoshiach (2018)

It seems like any and all bands associated in any way, past, present or future with the great Negative Plane infer some sort of inherent quality, even being as stylistically widespread as they are. From Occultation to Funereal Presence, you're getting some damned compelling material. New York's Spite might only share a brief, live connection with the above, but having also heard Salpsan's other project Horns & Hooves I was already aware the guy could brew some nasty black metal extract, and I am not at all let down by this slightly older project, seeing its first full-length through the esteemed Invictus Productions. Like Horns & Hooves, this carries a heavy influence from traditional black metal, but where that outlet little more frilly and speed-metal laced, Antimoshiac is perhaps a more direct line to the wretched sounds of forebears like Mayhem and Bathory in their 80s youth, with just the one musician rasping and playing all the instruments.

Not a lot of material here could be described as unique or nuanced in structure, but the surprise to me is that we've still got guys who can make such familiar patterns feel so cruel and fresh again, and that's really where this album works so well. The range is between mid and slightly faster black metal, driven heavily by dire tremolo picked melody, occasionally slathered in atmosphere from the higher strings being strung above the thundering drum kit. There's not a tune on the album that does not at some point sound exceedingly evil, and that's quite a feat in an age where we've heard it all so many bloody times that it's become almost mundane. Spite songs have vile verses that manage to escalate into more heightened 'chorus' like sequences where they just ramp up the majestic, melodic progressions that seem to climax alongside the snarling. Another key here is the sheer variety of what he's meting out, with no two songs that sound quite the same...the intricate little muted melodies that slink over the hammering bass-line depths of "The Shield of Abraham" sound little like the straight, venom spitting "Vision of the Merkabah" or the slower, steadily storming "False Magic" which could have been right at home in late 80s Bathory. No boredom through repetition whatsoever.

The production helps a lot, which I would consider perfect to go along with this very specific sound that Salpsan has devised. It's not your average necro-rawness, which many bands who chase this style thrive on. Instead, this is richer; fulfilling but not heavily processed or over-polished, never detracting from the constant vibe you get that a serpent is writhing up your shoulder and whispering ideas in your ear. Bass is sufficiently corpulent to support the rhythm guitars, which very often break away from thicker wall-of-sound chords and focus instead on classic, evil lines. I'd say these tremolo picked parts also draw some of their inspiration from ancient death metal circa the late 80s, they just have that ominous confidence to them, and some of the vocals get a little more gruesome to help accommodate this. This is ultimately a well constructed effort that reminds me so often of why I got into this style of music in the first place, and while you're not going to hear an evolution for the form, such could easily be achieved with a few dissonant tweaks, a few unexpected chords woven into the more conventional choices, a fraction more atmosphere. As it stands, though, Antimoshiac is a sinister delight on its own, and Salpsan's finest studio blasphemy to date.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

https://www.facebook.com/spitedesecration

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Tribulation - Down Below (2018)

Tribulation has been one of the few bands out there lately which can make such huge tectonic shifts in style between albums and still pique my interest, exploring every continent on Planet Death from the kinetic thrashing Swedish death/thrashing intensity of The Horror, through the psychedelic augmentations of The Formulas of Death, and then subsequently into a melancholic style of Gothic-tinted heavy growl metal which seems a lot more laid back yet no less effective than the earlier incarnations. This is why Down Below strikes me as an anomaly, because for the first time the Swedes seemed to have staked their claim on a terrain and hung around for awhile. It wouldn't be a stretch to call this Children of the Night Part Deux; there are some minor variations in production and songwriting, as this seems a bit louder, mildly more energetic and straight to the face, but it does lack some of that surprise factor you might have experienced when first listening to the two full-lengths before it. Which might be a turn-off, if the style just weren't so attractive in and amidst all my other listening.

The riffing remains simple, sad, and beautiful, owing to its atmospheric adornments as much as any internal nuance. I'm not saying it's entirely predictable the first time through, but the band is relying a lot more on traditional senses of harmony and rhythm chords and not so much the death metal roots. When I listened to its predecessor, and when I also hear this, I feel like I'm hearing what shape a 'melodeath' sound might have taken if the amplification technology and rock music existed back in the Victorian era. The tunes all evoke cult horror imagery, and are unquestionably inspired by both the black & white cinema of those early Hammer and Universal flicks, or the Gothic literature of writers like Poe, Shelly, Stoker and Radcliffe. I realize this creates a strange anachronism, and even more so when Johannes Andersson's nihilistic gutturals stretch out over the gloomier but warmer rhythm guitar passages, but it's just one of those melodic death sounds that feels instantly distinct when compared to the more frantic, showy Scandinavian bands that have dominated that style for well over a decade. In fact, I could draw parallels between this album and Sentenced's underrated Amok in 1995which also had a moody, Romantic heavy metal foundation contrasted by the grueling and charismatic growls of Taneli Jarva. Or maybe even their countrymen Raise Hell on the 2nd and 3rd albums, where they'd weave in similar horror-inspired melodies; only this is far less brash and not at all thrashy.

At any rate, Down Below is extremely catchy, with a lot of focus on leads and melodies that glaze its moderate rock beats like synth lines from classic horror films. Voluminous percussion. Grand, grating growls that, while monotonous, are strangely subduing. Well-developed bridges, breaks in the rain, exhalations across the dark smokestacks or gargoyle-laden skylines. Solos that are never overly indulgent, but fit the moods of their individual tracks and overall consistency of the album just fine. Even the few moments where this record devolves into sheer ambiance are wonderful. I would say that it does often seem a little too samey in its riffing structures and pacing, perhaps even more than Children of the Night, but that's only a problem so long as I don't enjoy what I'm experiencing, and for me Down Below and their last albums are emblematic of extravagant, ghoulish productions that I really enjoy sitting down to watch, or read. What a fucking great band this is, whether they stick around in this same sphere or once again forge ahead into the unknown, I'm on board, shivering in the full moon, checking out the windows for any black wings that might fly past.

Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (And the long night comes with grace)

http://www.tribulation.se/