Saturday, October 1, 2022

Hooded Menace - The Tritonus Bell (2021)

From its horror-kitsch Razorback origins through the more morbid and somber death/doom that most would recognize, Finnish act Hooded Menace has always stood out as one of the most memorable in its style. But even knowing that, even frothing at the bit for past works like Fulfill the Curse, Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, Effigies of Evil or the mighty Never Cross the Dead from 2010, I could not be prepared for how damn epic and unforgettable an album Lasse and company were about to unleash with The Tritonus Bell. Consistently crushing and catchy, having arguably the best production in the band's considerable catalogue, this was a record that unhinged my jaw upon initial release, and never let up through the rest of 2021, becoming my undisputed champion to help stave off a year of global and personal uncertainty.

This is just one of those 'total packages', locking in its atmosphere, musicianship, packaging and songwriting to the degree that many classic albums of my youth once did. I've heard others refer to this as a King Diamond of death metal, perhaps for the obvious reason that Andy LaRocque was on production here, but also the horror themes, the purple cover art might draw you back to an album like The Eye, and most importantly, the quality. Sure, it's a stretch, but replace the falsetto shrieking with growls, and the flashier heavy metal with superbly constructed death/doom grooves, and you might arrive at a place not too far from The Tritonus Bell. At the same time, I also hear a lot of Candlemass, Mercyful Fate grooves and even peak mid-90s Amorphis. The melodies and harmonies abound, leads are well-plotted to create an emotional impact over the drudging chords, and most importantly, like many of my fave albums in any sub-strain of 'doom metal', it understands that its compositions do not require an insufferable amount of slowness and repetition to wring despair from its audience. Hooded Menace has never really shied away from incorporating influence from traditional heavy metal or melodic death, but here the hybrid finds it strongest balance, and you get a masterful tune like "Blood Ornaments" or "Corpus Asunder" as a result.

Don't get me wrong, the album is still largely representative of its predecessors, but there's a dash of colorization here I haven't really felt since the sophomore album, with songs that are even better. Harri's gutturals are impressive despite any lack of range, and the drums are fantastic, but its the guitars that endlessly deliver throughout the 44 minutes, from the inaugural mild shredding of "Chthonic Exordium" to the super earworm finale "Instruments of Somber Finality" which I honestly wish was a lot longer because it totally hooks me. The production is top notch as it inevitably would be with this man in the booth, and while it might not focus too much on the cult and camp horror concepts like their earlier albums, this offers a more sobering, powerful escape into a shadowy, sinister necromantic universe. Mandatory stuff. Fuck, buy a copy for everyone you know, and turn their sunny skies upside down with morbid amusement.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.75/10]

Friday, September 30, 2022

Brain Famine - Die in the Vortex (2022)

Brain Famine is an exciting local Massachusetts prospect which performs an explosive melding of death, grind and thrash, meticulously sculpted so punch more riffs through in mere moments than a lot of bands can do over much lengthier tracks. This would be enough on its own, but add to that a judicious use of eerie melodies or leads that will catch you off guard, and a harrowing vocal style that uses a bit of reverb and hoarseness to create this psychotic, splattering effect that is a lot more exciting than it might prove if he was just barking out your typical guttural or rasp. Die in the Vortex is their second full-length, unsigned for some reason (a status that I'm sure will not last much longer if any labels WITHOUT a famined brain actually hear it), and a dizzying array of speed, technicality and aggression.

I'd almost say their sound is a fusion of something like modern Napalm Death, Altars of Madness and crossover hyper-thrash, that took just a couple semesters of Tech Death studies at the University of Abuse. Vocals bark out in patterns more familiar to the grind sphere, but the guitars that are much more bewildering than your usual four-chord speed-punk, and I for one appreciate the level of proficiency and ambition. Often they'll erupt into these nasty thrash sequences set to interesting, shuffling rhythms, but nothing lasts too long as the band jerks you into yet another memorable pattern that is simply too fast for my old neck to headbang along to. The lead guitars or more melodic runs are short and to the point, but yet another element of elevation which makes the experience even more compelling and well-rounded. The bass tone here is effective, thick and punchy, while the drums are a verifiable tornado of technical aptitude which perfectly compliments the rest. Lyrics and titles are also sharp as a tack, hell I was an English major and I had to look up two words as I was listening through this one (I'm sure you can guess in the track list).

It's REALLY intense, and if you're not ready for it, Die in the Vortex might prove exhausting, but again, most the tracks here are kept very concise between 2-3 minutes, so you don't even have time to realize that your head is about to spin off before it does. The one exception is "Endless March" at over 5, and to be honest I rather like that they space themselves out here, it's got a lot more of the intricate, excellent melodic guitar work and reminds me a lot more of brooding late 80s tech thrash (mid-to-late Coroner, for example). This album clocks in at around 23 minutes, so there isn't too much room, but I'm hoping more like this would appear to flesh out future full-lengths. That said, the area in which they specialize, the shorter, more spastic material is also so well done that I have no real complaints, but it could be better served with a little more of this variation to balance it out. Brain Famine is certainly one of our better local technical extreme metal acts at the moment, imagine Revocation as your gateway drug and then proceed directly to this, controlled bursts of 'off the hinge-ness' that will resonate and reward across multiple listens.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Thursday, September 29, 2022

ACOD - Fourth Reign Over Opacities and Beyond (2022)

Occasionally a record will come along with so much obvious effort and variation put into it that it feels like the band really planned out some veritable tour de force, and such is the case for ACOD's latest opus Fourth Reign Over Opacities and Beyond. Ostensibly an admixture of black, death and thrash metal, they've also got no opposition to tossing in symphonic sequences, narrative samples, or more accessible riffs and melodies than you might expect given their track record. The bottom line is that they've crafted this comprehensive album in which anything can go as long as it services the songwriting, and I've quite enjoyed the experience for all that it draws upon, and the fact that it defies any sort of easy predictability while not swinging too far outside the box.

I'd almost call the orchestral cinematics here 'graceful' in how they adhere to the mightier, pummeling riff-work, but ACOD never makes the mistakes of letting them take over the mix. Listening through a great tune like "Genus Vacuitatis", the guitars are still the stars of the show, providing the most exciting of material, with the extras just complementing it. There's also a pretty wide range of riffs found here, from stuff that reminded me of veterans from Rotting Christ to Moonspell to Samael. No track passes without some successful attempt to hook you, and then they can still get fairly evil and brutal sounding when the need takes them, whether they are flirting with their black or death metal sides. The bass playing is good and thick, simple where it needs to be, like below the glorious melodies throughout "Sulfur Winds Ritual", and the drums are exactly where they need to be, with loads of fills and different beats plastered all over the pieces that reflect their diversity. There's that same sort of Romantic darkness to this record that you probably felt through a lot of the 90s, not that this turns into some Gothic drip-fest.

As for the symphonics themselves, they are quite excellent, whether composed solely on their own in the intro piece "Sur d'anciens chemins...", the eerie interlude "Infernet's Path", or sprinkled throughout the meatier metal cuts. If you're into some of the vintage works of groups like Hollenthon or Therion then you're going to enjoy their use here, and in fact I wouldn't mind just hearing an entire album of just that. Sweeping, bombastic, with choirs to good effect and great production balance against the harder instruments. The vocals are a leaden black rasp with some character to it that can attain a more brutal edge when they strike a more distinctly death metal riff, although there are some spoken word parts and a few sections with backup layered vocals. All of this contributes to a 51+ minute album unlike most others you will hear this year, easy to recommend to a wide swath of fans into melodic black or death metal, Gothic/black, etc, from the groups I listed here to Dimmu Borgir or Stormlord.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Acédia - Fracture (2022)

Acédia hails from the Quebec black metal scene without necessarily conforming to its peers there, not there that has every been a particularly singular sound hailing from that region. Their third album Fracture does bear some of the same atmospherics, slightly lengthy songs and a vibe of more experiential nature rather than a memorable riff-fest, but I can see why they would have drawn the interest of the French label Les Acteurs de L'Ombre Productions, as they fill a niche somewhere between the more post-modern black metal and a structured, traditional style with forms the basis for some of the Medieval black metal brethren out of Europe. Dark and turbulent enough to hit a segment of the Blut Aus Nord or Deathspell Omega fandom, but gleaming with melodies and majesty that might appeal to fans of an Aorlhac or Véhémence. One other band that comes to mind is their labelmates like Wesenwille or Hyrgal.

The compositions are generally characterized by faster or blasted tempos layered with guitar melodies that are not quite labyrinthine in effect, but often weaving and winding and showing some depth that won't always feel immediate upon listening, as if they stretch out their ideas over more measures of space than your garden variety residents in the genre. Despite the brightness often inherent into the bleeding streams of notes, it does maintain an opaque environmental quite well, a density that is often gray and depressing in sensation. I felt as the record went along I was faced with even more dissonant riffing choices, and the constant thundering of the kicks or blasted drums often created an air of confusion (like in the title track, which is the shortest piece on here, nearly half the length of its neighbors). They do occasionally break for less busy sequences, but they often thread these with more atonal, open guitar notes that maintain a sense of neurosis. The bass lines twist and turn beneath them, departing from the rhythm guitars just enough to add to the sense of mental imbalance.

Vocally it's a garbled intonation, a bit more BM rasp than DM growl, which hovers at the edge of its contrast against the guitars, and I did find them fairly monotonous at times, almost like they were providing a simplistic rhythm instrument for the more nuanced and adventurous guitars. This persists, even as the music hits a fever pitch of dissonant weirdness in tracks like "L'inconnu", a rush that at times almost feels like a microtonal black metal Voivod until it picks up until full black metal froth, or maybe like a Ved Buens Ende if their uncanny style was set into a more conventional blasted format. Fracture is definitely an album that requires you to plum its depths for appreciation, across a couple of listens so you can settle into its perspective. I wasn't entirely smitten with it, but the effort and intensity are hard to deny, and fans who are steadfast into the murky, roiling side of black metal will find some potential within.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Hyrgal - Hyrgal (2022)

Hyrgal would be an easy band to go unnoticed in a lineup, what with their simple and minimalistic album covers and the fact that they perform their black metal in a less esoteric and outsider fashion than French peers like Deathspell Omega or Blut Aus Nord. But that doesn't mean they should be overlooked, because they produce an effective, haunting, atonal style which is heavily rooted in the conventions of the genre, but not afraid to bend a few atmospheres to come across as more atmospheric and modern, and in that way they DO occasionally bear some semblance to the more popular peers. The band really knocked it out of the park with their sophomore Fin de règne last year, and have already returned for an eponymous follow-up, whose very nature seems to veer towards an even more 'back-to-basics' form than the first two...

...and that's essentially what this is. Hyrgal is not an album with too many surprises, just a straight rush of slow to moderately fast paced traditional black metal, trending towards a little more epic feel in its slower sequences, where the atmosphere takes a stronger hold of the listener, as in "Legende noire" with its bridge full of cascading chords, ambience created through and behind the guitars, mournful leads, rumbling drums and a vocal style that can often transform from the expected rasp into something a bit more throaty, emotional from the chest. They don't saturate the stuff in bright, shiny synths, but conjure up fear and despair through feedback and background noise before slamming into the darker, depressive, blasting segments. There is always a little some extra beyond just the minimum, bare-bones that the riffs and beats would produce thanks to the layering in of leads or melodies, and to be honest, I actually preferred the areas of this record where the band let the darkness breathe a little.

Once they go into blast-mode, it's still fairly effective, especially when hitting some climactic blend of airy guitars and vocal drawl, but sometimes the drumming and rhythm guitars blend into monotony, only to save you with a slightly less predictable, dissonant chord pattern (as in "Vermines"). This is not an album you'll find instant gratification with if you just want some sinister, earworm riffs, it's instead something you've got to put in the commitment with, not a terrible tax as the whole affair wraps up in under 40 minutes. I don't know that I quite enjoyed this one as much as its predecessors, but there is plenty of talent in how they've structured it and remained so deathly loyal to such an oppressive, bleak style that holds up without requiring excessively raw production. Dependable if not terribly dynamic in scope.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]

Monday, August 1, 2022

'Til summer's end

Off for my annual Summer break, will return this October for a month of Horror Metal reviews! Beware the water. - autothrall

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Hooded Menace - Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed (2018)

Judging by the intro "Sempiternal Grotesqueries", you'd think that Hooded Menace were continuing to pursue the ponderous, slow path they laid out through Darkness Drips Forth, albeit with a less weighty and burgeoning guitar tone. And that funereal touch certain plays a part on this album, but at the same time, Ossuarium Silhouttes Unhallowed does wheel back a little to the sounds of Effigies of Evil and Never Cross the Dead. I don't wanna say it's back to the 'fun' of the Finns formative horror death/doom, the lyrics and atmosphere here are quite brooding and despair-drive, but the way the songs are structured offers a bit more variation and covers a broader network of doom influences. In fact, after the opening track, which is over 10 minutes in length, the rest are cut down to a more manageable length.

Of all their works, this one has some of their strongest traditional doom metal riffs, I mean there's a lot of stuff here that sounds like the death metal equivalent to Candlemass or Solitude Aeternus, and I for one think that is fantastic. Same deep rhythm tones, same eerie, lower guitar harmonies, but with a cleaner production than the last album, one that services both the sluggish architecture and the peppier riffing. The vocals are fucking great, really resonating off the lamentations felt through the guitar melodies, and the drums rumble and thunder like a subterranean space of collapsing rubble. Yes, the whole album conveys a 'cavernous' atmosphere much like the beautiful cover artwork implies, and there is certainly a streak of Incantation running through here, but where most of the bands copying that stuff become insufferably claustrophobic and cluttered, Hooded Menace serenade you with beautiful, elegant melodies that just drift about the cavern space ("In Eerie Deliverance"), occasionally remembering to crush your spirit, as they do so well within a "Cathedral of Labyrinthine Darkness".

The five 'main' tracks on this one are just beastly, among the better the band has written, and then they close it out with a shorter instrumental in "Black Moss", which nicely segues into some crisp acoustics that also stick around in the ear for awhile. At that point, you get the impressive you've just been whisked away from some dark, oppressive nightmare, so it's a nice touch. Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, with its tongue-twister title, is further proof that Hooded Menace have transformed into, for my money, the most reliable death/doom band in the world. From the art and concepts, to the lyrics, to the delivery of the music, the massive production, and the willingness to toy around with their tunes just enough to keep them interesting and eschew the danger of monotony and repetition that is common in this niche. EVERY album they've put out is worth your coin, just save a few for the ferryman that will loom large over you as you're listening.

Verdict: Win [8.75/10] (lay waste and command)

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Hooded Menace - Darkness Drips Forth (2015)

Darkness Drips Forth sounds partly like an experiment by Hooded Menace to flirt with a more funereal doom sound, not that it's quick to abandon the trappings that had defined the band to its date, but you can see in the swollen song-lengths and the slightly more glacial pacing that they were going for what might be their most saddening and serious album to its day. Add to that the rather bland (if still cool) cover artwork and you come away with what might be the most color-leeching of all their full-length albums, also fitting that motif. Fortunately, the Finns simply don't know how to fail at writing great music, and Darkness Drips Forth, with its four tracks in 40+ minutes, is quite the grower. I may not have had the same upfront positive reaction as I did with all their other albums, but I can say in all honesty that it has grown on me the most, reclaimed the most ground and nowadays its one I consider when I'm in the mood for the truly monolithic, sluggish death/doom but not quite ready to take the next step towards their countrymen Skepticism (which require another level of pathos and focus for me to handle).

The riffs on this are just as huge as other records, but drawn out appropriately to fill up the epic song lengths, and they all feel like they are being slowly carved into marble or granite, just staggering and Gothic and forcing the listener to abandon all hope within moments. The bass is awesome, slow and spun with just enough buzz on it to contrast against the mournful harmonies that are so vital to this sort of record succeeding, and often left alone a bit which is where the album actually feels more the most funeral. There are some brief flashes of cleaner guitars that are tastefully melded into the slowly lurching obelisk rhythms, and of course the gutturals here sound enormous, the perfect accompaniment to the style. It's not all death-drudging; the pace does pick up to a mid, rocking vibe in some spots, important to prevent any real monotony from setting in, and you often get a warmer sequence like that melody which sets in deep into "Elysium of Dripping Death", but that's clearly not the dominant offering.

Absolutely another quality Hooded Menace record, and it took me a little too longer to come to that realization, but I think this one is best when you're not interested in those little traces of horror kitsch humor that went into the earlier full-lengths. This is the band at its most ponderous and morose, cautiously crushing you through the certainty of their riffing strength and massive atmosphere. More of an homage to their old British Peaceville death/doom or funeral doom influences than their other efforts, perhaps, but still interchangeable with some of the material on the records that sandwiched it, Effigies of Evil or Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed. Realistically, you could dive into any of their works and come away comparably impressed, but just don't expect this one to give quite the same instant gratification that you'll find elsewhere. Persist, and suffer alongside it enough, and it will reveal its morbid magnificence.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Monday, July 25, 2022

Hooded Menace - Gloom Immemorial (2014)

Gloom Immemorial is a fine example of what you get with a compilation when the band/label actually cares about the band's audience and attempts to offer them value and quality above a mere shell of a product. Someone could very easily take a handful of tracks off each of Hooded Menace's first few albums and then cash in, as the songs would likely sound great together and they could summon up some fancy cover art, but instead this is a collection of split 7" tracks and demo material that was probably unavailable to most of us that weren't right in on the ground floor of the band's career. That's not to say that some of the songs aren't available in other incarnations on records like Fulfill the Curse, but there's enough here to warrant inclusion on your shelf, and the Misanthropic-Art cover is also great.

For me specifically the split tracks are a treat, from the potent, limping cover of Anima Morte's "A Decay of Mind and Flesh", which they pulled from a 'mutual cover song' venture. Or the churning of "The Haunted Ossuary" from their split with the highly compatible Coffins, just a straight bruiser of a track that feels like a slow mosh through a mortuary. Or maybe "Catacombs of the Graceless" which is a fantastic track with a morbid groove that they put out on a 12" with Ilsa. Most if not all of the rare material on this is album-worthy, and that's just significant in that it shows us the Finns do not fuck around, and take everything seriously that they expect a fan might by. Now, you do get a few bits like The Eyeless Horde demo tracks which were also on the debut, but one can hardly fault them for that as a lot of folks probably want that collected, and it's, no surprise, strong material from a strong album. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that, taking any redundant tracks off here, just a collection of the split stuff would have made a formidable Hooded Menace record...the aforementioned "Catacombs..." is one of my favorite tracks they've ever done.

This ALSO contains the two tunes from the Labyrinth of Carrion Breeze EP which was pretty recent to this, so you don't have to track that one down. Could Gloom Immemorial have been more complete? Only slightly, there was at least one EP with a few covers (I'll go over this one elsewhere) that I can recall, but with 75 minutes of slug-like, mighty death/doom like this, layered in great mournful melodies, eerie and somber leads, and measured grooves that will twist your insides into a knot, this is a pretty mandatory compilation from Doomentia and Hooded Menace, unless of course you already own all of the separate splits and such.

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Order ov Riven Cathedrals - Absolute (2022)

The intro to this record had a really unexpected flair to it, a mix of almost cinematic, mounting percussion, operatic background and ritualistic chants that kept me guessing on what to expect, being that this was my first exposure to Italians Order ov Riven Cathedrals. Right away, though, the band's moniker almost translates directly into their style, epic and grandiose death metal which has a certain Eastern, ethnic flair to it which I could only compare slightly to acts like Melechesh or Nile, and even that might not be fair, because while the sum 'package' of the duo's style fits snugly into the technical and brutal end of its genre, there are plenty of original riffing ideas permeating this throughout which show that it doesn't take anything more than a healthy, scant dose of influence from anyone.

In fact it even stands out against the band's countrymen like Hour of Penance, Hideous Divinity and Fleshgod Apocalypse, although fans of any of these would certainly be in for a treat checking this out, because it's written on the same level of claustrophobic ferocity and mechanical precision than any of those groups mete out. The production might have a similar level of bricked-out force, but the sole instrumentalist, '12', just flogs you with all of these intensely woven patterns of riffs that elevate above the punctual, pummeling substrate of the rhythm guitars. It's almost like you're listening to a classic late 90s brutal death record but with an added level of musicality cascading across its surface, bustling and busy and chop-heavy. The precision beats offer a stifling support for the rest of the insanity, but they're also packed with lots of fills and double-kick runs so that they can match the flexibility of the guitars, as in the chugging, awesome bridge of "Shameful Anthropic Principle" where they outpace the rhythm riffs until the sporadic splashes of filler notes that connect the moshing drudgery.

Perhaps the most anchored component of the material is the blunt vocal guttural of 'En Sabah Nur', but it's delivered at a volume where you can make out a little nuance and sincerity, even if the overall style does not distance itself from most in its genre. There is occasionally also a little bit of monotony to the overall pacing between songs, but the band hurls enough technical Cytotoxin-like flurries and melodies, and tricks through each of the compositions that it never becomes too much of a chore, and at an overall playtime of 32 there is simply no bloat in which it could wear out its welcome. The Order of Riven Cathedrals proves without a doubt (if they hadn't already) that they belong in consideration with some of the top shelf Italian death metal exports, if you want to be quickly and soundly destroyed by some no-frills tech pugilism then this is an easy go-to for the year.

Verdict: Win [8/10]