Sunday, January 30, 2022

Abaroth - Dosed EP (2021)

Abaroth is a Worcester, Massachusetts based black metal band which has existed on and off for the last two decades, with a couple full-lengths to their name and sharing a couple members with another band, Sarcomancy, whose demo I've covered in the past. The style for their latest recording, the Dosed EP, marks an evolution into a slightly more hybridized sound than what I can remember from their last effort Emissary of the Void, which was pretty straightforward atmospheric black metal. Here, you've got more of a blend of epic heavy metal riffs redolent of early 90s Bathory, but with a bit more of a rock & roll DNA that I could trace all the way back to fucking KISS. The vocals, however, stay extremely rasp heavy and black metal, much like prior recordings, and they keep some of the more intense, thundering extreme drums.

It's a combo that works out surprisingly well, and at times reminds me a little of the Immortal side project 'I', only this is a little heavier, and the lyrical themes are quite different, instead of snow blasted mountains and dancing gleefully among the pines in our corpse paint, we're dealing with subjects like "Sex Magician" and "Consensually Exchanging Bodily Fluids". The band describes themselves far more amusingly than I ever could on their Bandcamp page, but it's definitely a strange disconnect that one wouldn't expect to accompany music of such an epic, bulky architecture, and thus a unique choice. The bass lines are thick and fluid, the guitars have an unapologetic, powerful simplicity to them, projected at a billion megawatts across a tundra, and I dig when they break out a very simple, repetitious melodic line above them, which absolutely recalls records like Hammerheart or Between Two Worlds. There are also some crooning, soaring vocals here which help break up the snarling, and the whole thing is pretty damn unexpected from a New England band; loud and fun and yet...kind of serious business, too.

Verdict: Win [7.5/10]

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Pensées Nocturnes - Douce Fange (2022)

Why is it the most distinctly and/or disturbingly French black metal bands have the initials P. N.? Paris' Pensées Nocturnes might not answer that question with their seventh full-length Douce fange, but they will once again answer the calling of carnival-fresh, aurally anarchic and murderous black metal with a sax section, and they will answer that calling in an even more brazen way than on their 2019 oddity Grand Guignol Orchestra. This is a strange, STRANGE sound the group has put together, not only in how the metal content fuses with the other instruments and the almost tongue-in-cheek, mocking nature of its presentation, but in how they use a lot of bizarre, gonzo jazz elements with the brass and drumming that sound just as alien on their own cognizance.

Douce fange is a chaotic but controlled clutter of traditional black metal guitar aesthetics, wavering and haunting vocal lines that sound like a drunken street hawker, and the added confusion of all the brass that make it sound like a stinking circus stuffed down some Parisian back alley in the early 20th century. In general, the compositions are lurching, non-linear and completely inconsiderate of what arrangements your mind wishes to mold them into, but it's also consistently compelling. New tricks arrive at almost every street stall or corner, with more narrative spurts of vocals in native French, or eerier, dissonant atmospheric guitars. The bass playing has a fantastic, fat sound to it which rumbles around the shifting tides of the riffs, and the drummer sounds like he stepped in for a Miles Davis album and got a bunch of metal freaks instead, but then rises to the challenge. There are some truly intense and ridiculous passages like in "PN mais Costaud!" where the double bass starts going crazy and there's this whole array of wild screaming and growls along with the confusing but somehow structured guitar patterns, all to disappear into some softer tremolo picked lines, samples and horns, and it's that manic few measures that really sum up the album.

You've got to steel yourself for Douce fange, but its rewarding for its fearsome and lollygagging contrasts, and its not like the band just stumbled upon this, because the previous album was sort of a trial run for this mutation in the band's career. The production is very well balanced despite the almost sweltering randomness of how the tunes are laid out, and even the packaging lives up to the music with its collages of weird billets and advertisements for oddities and social unrest. Trust me, this is a CD booklet unlike any other you'll see this year, and it's quite impressive. I'm sure there's quite a lot to the concepts here I'm not fully understanding, even my wife who speaks French and lived there for a year was a little baffled. The schizophrenic and freeform nature of this music is one of a kind, and I find I keep picking out more details with each listen. It's like Shining and Mr. Bungle jamming while they all twirl a bunch of moustaches. Looney bin brilliance.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Kreator - Bootleg Revolution (2022)

If you take a look back at the last few year of Kreator's output, there have been more than a couple live offerings, one might even say an 'oversaturation' of such releases. But the Germans tend to avoid the heat on this since most of them are magazine exclusives or other rarities and not exactly proper curated live records. Such is also the case for this new Bootleg Revolution, a collection of international bootleg recordings that come alongside the new 20th Anniversary of the Violent Revolution album. Was that album such a big deal that it needs a 20th Anniversary Edition? I'll leave that for you to decide, I think it's a fine album but not high on the importance or influence ladder of their discography. But hey, if you don't own the original, here's your chance to get a deluxe version with a lot more material on it, on physical or digital media.

But how about these bootlegs? I was curious because some of them are recorded in Korea, and you don't often hear a live metal recording from that area. The rest are in Brazil, Turkey, the Netherlands, and Germany, so it's not like they're including a tune per country. This also includes material from across their career, whereas I would have figured it would be largely drawn from the album celebrating its 20th Anniversary, and a number of the tracks are repeated in several sets. That being said, the sound quality is pretty good, with the guitars forming a brigade of pulverizing clarity, and Mille sounding aggressive on top. It's also consistent across several of the countries, namely Korea and Wacken and Waldrock fests, so the vast majority of the tunes sound excellent. The exception is Istanbul, where it actually sounds a lot rougher and more like a proper bootleg recording from...years ago, but it's at least not totally awful or I'd imagine the band wouldn't have included it.

The live setting here is a nice equalizer for various phases of their career, so for instance a track like "Phobia" with its hardcore-inflected style sounds pretty good alongside standards like "People of the Lie", "Flag of Hate", or "Extreme Aggression". This is especially true of old tunes like "Tormentor" which seem to get a lot of benefit out of the performance, almost an on-stage modernization that feels a lot less crude than the original recordings. The notes and riffs haven't changed, it's just a matter of leveling it all out and sticking it in the set with more complex tracks. I can't say that Bootleg Revolution offers you as consistent as experience as 2020's London Apocalypticon - Live at the Roundhouse, but if you're getting it alongside the new version of the studio album, or as a cheap download, it's decent if plagued with the redundancies. So, hey,'s been about five years since your last new album, about the same amount of time that passed between Phantom Antichrist and Gods of Violence. Now that you've gotten all these live releases and the kompilation out of your systems...can we has a new one?

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Tribulation - Where the Gloom Becomes Sound (2021)

If I was already surprised that Tribulation stuck to the same general sound for two full-length albums, I was even more so when that number became three. Where the Gloom Becomes Sound cultivates another minor evolution to the Goth-driven melodic death metal niche that the band has become possibly the sole inhabitant of, but it certainly does lack the element of surprise you might have experienced on Children of the Night. But don't take that as some deal-breaking critique, because this album is thus far their best manifestation of the corpse-painted, emotional noir that the band has been vibing off, and it's an album that repeatedly rewards the listener, especially when you can set the proper mood: an autumn drive through the countryside, an empty city during lockdown, or just the candles and shadows of your personal Batcave.

The tunes here are all written at accessible lengths, and not immediately impressive, but that's the true strength of Where the Gloom Becomes Sound. The riffs aren't 'long', per se, but the Swedes have learned how to play the long game with them, and craft tunes that are so much more appealing when you pull the lens back and appreciate their entire structure, which is more or less rock-based and then filtered through the grisly guttural vocals. Most of the guitars are wistful, melodic, even folksy, and the use of pianos, percussion and other elements definitely gives this one almost a Gothic country/folk spin to compliment the weaving of the electrics. That's not to say it isn't guitar-heavy or metallic, because the guitars dazzle with a bevy of hypnotic patterns in tunes like "In Remembrance" and "Leviathans" that are among the best they've written, but it's all fairly smooth and inoffensive, an extremely far cry from the harsh death/thrashing on the band's underrated debut (though the intro riff to "Funeral Pyre" gets a bit speedy for a moment, just not in the same way).

The bass lines are simple and perfect, the organs melancholic, the drumming is great, the entire band is aces, really, and what's even more important is that the tracks here are more effective and impactful than those of the prior two albums. I'm not even sure what else to compare this to? Maybe a bit of Sentence post-Amok, or Moonspell's earlier Goth metal diversions come to mind, where you'd hear a similar approach to the guitars, but Tribulation has really mastered the emotional resonance of this style by now. That's not to the album is 100% perfect for me...the piano segue "Lethe" is fine, and there are certain a few tunes in the depths that use samey techniques to some of the extremely strong album openers ("Elementals" starts like a reconfiguration and re-tempo'd "Leviathans"), but there's nothing in the 48 minutes that is really skippable, the lyrics read like gorgeous and fitting Gothic/doom lamentations, and the album is definitely one that hits me even closer to the feels with each successive listen. If I hadn't such a hard-on for The Horror, which could almost be a different band altogether, this would nudge past its two predecessors to become my favorite of their albums.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (Among bellflowers and devil's bite)

Monday, January 17, 2022

Tribulation - Alive & Dead at Södra Teatern (2019)

The real question I had when I saw that Tribulation had announced its first live album was just how well their diverse slate of material was going to jive together in that setting. I can totally hear The Formula of Death mixing in with their more Goth-oriented records Children of the Night and Down Below, but how would an audience react to tracks off The Horror and its far different, intense death/thrash sound? To be frank, as much as I've enjoyed their evolutions, that record is still my favorite due to its reckless, explosive songwriting and carnal sound, but I can understand why the band would want to leave it behind them as they explored their gloomier new territory, the contrast might be a little jarring when you're trying to set a mood on stage. Stranger things...have happened? Maybe an encore with the masterful "Beyond the Horror"?

But not here, because the two-disc live album wisely avoids the answer by offering material just off the three most recent albums to its own release. The first disc is Down Below performed in its entirety, and the second disc is a mix of The Formula of Death, Children of the Night and a few fresh live bits. At any rate, the recordings sound quite excellent, with a great mix of the band's riffing melancholy, hoarse rasped vocals and drumming thunder. The band has a tendency this last decade to play pensive, melodic and sorrow-saturated material which really needs the air to breathe to lay in on the audience, and this live offers just that. Crisp clarity that doesn't drain the rhythm guitar of power, well-performed leads that scream straight into the mix where they belong, extremely professional beyond even the bands' years; there are legacy metal acts with 30-40 years experience that will often put out sub-par live products that cannot even come close to matching this. And the set is amazing, even the intro/organ instrumental that sets up the second disc, and the beautiful guitar instrumental later on. Turns out the slightly more adventurous, proggy pieces off The Formula of Death mixed in quite well with the black & white melodic Goth/death. That wafting gloom is never lifted throughout, and I can only imagine breaking out into the death/thrash of their formative years would have probably spoiled the spell this can cast on the listener...EVEN in the context of the live disc.

You also get a DVD of the performance with some added bonus materials, and it might even be my preferred way to experience the music, with a funereal din to it thanks to the lighting and the way the musicians' faces are pretty much obscured throughout. The whole package is a victory for Century Media, a live product that is wholly worth the money a Tribulation fan will spend on it, appreciated largely by folks like myself who haven't had the pleasure yet to actually catch them on a stage. After listening through and watching this several times, that's something I need to put on my bucket list, but even if tragedy strikes and I'm unable to do so, this feels like its nearly as good as being there.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Friday, January 14, 2022

Tribulation - Nightbound EP (2018)

The Nightbound EP was another skimpy little fan EP that arrived with little fanFARE, available in two versions, of which the digital was the more substantial by one track. This is really just multiple versions of the same song, and while I like "Nightbound", and LOVE Tribulation, I don't really think there's enough of a deviation between the separate incarnations that it warranted any sort of additional product. Now, that's not to say that any of the three are BAD, but usually if you're going to release something 'extra' you throw the audience a bone or something, maybe include a cover, a rarity, something that makes them feel as if they've locked ears on something exclusive and interesting. In fact, this very band has done such before with singles. I'm going ot hazard a guess that this 7" and digital EP probably wasn't entirely the band's idea...

Now, all three of the "Nightbound" tunes included are fine...the studio track we already know off of Down Below, but the live recording certainly sounds pretty good in that context, with bright guitars, vocals and rhythm section all mixed quite well, and arguably this is the most energetic deliver of the track on the EP. Lastly, there's the instrumental demo, and while it's not a song that truly benefits from the lack of vocals, it's fine for mood music. I'm covering the digital edition myself, but if you go for the 7" I'm pretty sure it doesn't even include the studio version, so it's another reason you're just buying it for that minimal artwork and to have another 7" record sitting on your bloated shelves that might not ever even be listened to again...but hey, maybe will be worth something? Doesn't seem like the content to this is even historically worthwhile as a collectible. So the bottom line, I love the band, the song itself is cool, and I love their albums as I've written about numerous times, and the Nightbound EP is entirely skippable.

Verdict: Fail [3/10]

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Cepheide - Les échappées (2021)

I was somewhat impressed with the 19+ minute opus "Lucide" that I had heard off Cepheide's split with Time Lurker a couple years ago, but even that would not prepare me for the instantly transformative material that comprises this sophomore full-length Les échappées. The product of just one musician (Gaetan), this is one of the darker, denser and arguably more cluttered approaches I've heard towards the atmospheric (or I dare say 'blackgaze'-adjacent) end of the black metal medium, but it's also lush, captivating escapism which showers the listener in shades of cold, warmth, unnerving hostility and melodic beauty. Essentially you are taking those bedrock elements of post-black and then throttling them with a dimmer, more aggressive style chocked with blast beats, guitars that are both consonant and dissonant as they stream atmospheres across the oblique nightscape of this musician's imagination.

I also loved how the vocals were implemented, they are quite frightening...perhaps if you were to focus in on them they'd be your typical sorts of rasps or grunts for the genre, but the way Gaetan just floats them against the mix so that they almost hover in the backdrop creates the impression of traverse through a tortured asylum where the inmates' manic emotions are being splattered all over the walls. This can certainly become a claustrophobic experience, but at the same time the material is rooted well enough into the traditional BM style that you have an out once those tremolo picked guitars and chords rocket right into the vaulted ceiling of the recording. I realize some might find the work a bit noisier than it needs to be, a trifle calamitous, but it all meshes together so well into this tortured, formidable expression that hits my ears like a wall of sorrows and shadows. It does have a few segues here or there where the haunting and cloying savagery cedes to something sparser and simpler, but it's all leading towards the next beautiful rush.

In a world so obsessed with bands like a Deafheaven or Wolves in the Throne Room, it would nice to see some of these more fringe acts like Cepheide get more attention, because frankly the escapism I feel here exceeds a lot of such better-known acts while never carrying that same burden of sounding trendy or inauthentic. Les échappées is a pretty wonderful freak-out of an album, and while a few areas might get a little samey, he's always throwing a few surprises in there, like the percussion and warped surfy space guitars in "L'Ivresse", to remind us of just how wide a net he's able to cast with his ideas. A very cool project that is worth hearing and worth following into the future.

Verdict: Win [8.5/10]

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Adoperta Tenebris - Oblivion: The Forthcoming Ends (2021)

Adoperta Tenebris is a one-person black metal attack out of France which offers a steady contrast between slower, pensive riffing sequences and then a few of the rapid-fire passages that are a bit more what you'd expect. However, that alone might be selling it short, because 'G' does put quite a lot of effort into creating varied, slower, swaying rhythms threaded with interesting percussion and melodies, so I'd say that the real strength here often lies in the former category. That's not to write off the surging, blasting cycles, which are competently handled and even fire off a fairly well-built riff here or there, but I just feel like the material is a little more textured and compelling when its at its more plodding pace, and it varies between chugging, roiling chords, and often with faster riffs that are splayed out across its visage.

The atmosphere is created almost entirely through the rhythm guitars, so don't expect this to be dowsed with synths and such, the melancholy and plummeting majesty are all riff-based and desperate, as the vocals maintain a somewhat monotonous hybrid rasp/growl which doesn't differ it up beyond just the syllabic structures. The beats are busy enough, with some personality through the fills and in the aforementioned slower sections, and the bass is prominent enough to give a richness and potency to the guitars even if it never really winds off into a force of its own. There are few surprises ever in store, perhaps a case where the heaviness drops out for a sample/narration ("Utter Manifest") above which only more spacious guitars soar off, and while the 48 minute playtime does have enough variation to justify itself, I'd have to say that there were sadly not a lot of individual riffs or tracks which stood out to me as memorable.

And I do hate to  diminish the effort and proficiency of the artist here, because the performances and knowledge of genre are both on the level, but I'd almost describe Oblivion: The Forthcoming Ends as too consistently average, with too little that leaves an impression beyond the surface-level gloom and sadness that are automatically manifest through the niche in which this sits. The lyrics are actually quite thorough and perhaps more picturesque than the music itself, though they do fit the mood of the music extremely well; there just wasn't much here which stood out to me as something that warranted a lot of repeated listening. It's professional, sufficient, produced well, and not at all poorly conceived with its style of ebb and flow, but could use more breakout riffs and songwriting to burn itself into your mind.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Corpus Diavolis - Apocatastase (2021)

Corpus Diavolis has a sound which distinguishes it from both the more Medieval/historically-inflected black metal and avant-garde/dissonant spectrums of the French scene. Instead, they imbue their concepts with a more steady, ritualistic and I'd even hazard, theatrical leaning which offers a mesmeric experience to those willing to patiently sit through the experience; while the band does come up with some solid individual riffs and choral sections, this is one where the impact of the 45 minute whole is far more memorable and menacing than trying to break it into shorter listening bites. While the totality is largely cast in the black metal mold, there are also some riffing undercurrents more redolent of classic death metal which snake their way into the apocryphal atmosphere.

Production is clean and powerful, from the tremolo picked serpentine riffs so important, to the louder, broader doomy chord patterns that they'll often transcend into. The rhythm guitars are for me one of the two highlights, always layering in some atmospheric, open ringing notes or chords to the slower segments, and then picking up volatility and wicked attitude when the speed increases. The other strength is the vox, which are mixed between dependable rasps, growls and grimy narrative passages, and then these great, deep male choir bits which work wonderfully when the percussion gets a little more thunderous and tribal. A great example of their style is "The Dissolution of Eternal Extasy in the Embrace of Satan", which has so much on offer between its incendiary riff changes and creeping atmosphere throughout the bridge. The drumming is super steady, with nearly robotic double bass kick speed, but also loads of cool fills and a flair for the exotic/tribalist with a Celtic Frost To Mega Therion influence. In fact, while Apocatastate is obviously a lot more involved and technical than such a classic, Corpus Diavolis definitely put me in mind of how a band like that might have sounded if it started in the current time, that sort of cloying, occult atmosphere just saturates this experience and its pretty formidable.

There were a few moments when the engagement dipped a bit for me and felt more like background noise, but I attribute this more to the attention span I was feeling in that moment, and not any dearth in quality of delivery, because ultimately this is yet another strong act in what might be the strongest black metal scene in the world, with both its more conventional and experimental acts delivering non-stop for the last two decades. Apocatastase has the production, the musicianship, the sinister unease to hold its value for years to come, even if it's not something you'd file as an instant masterpiece. The packaging for the CD is also great with its gold print against black, Satanic artwork, interesting lyrical lore, and overall this is an easy one to recommend whether you're into the band's French peers or the orthodox black metal stuff out of Sweden (Ofermod, Ondskapt, Funeral Mist, Mephorash, etc).

Verdict: Win [8/10]

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Bog Wizard - Miasmic Purple Smoke (2021)

Michigan's dungeon mushroom doom masters pick up right where last year's From the Mire left off, with some of the most bludgeoning, drudging, simplistic stoner/doom metal you're like to experience. The focus here is entirely on drubbing you repeatedly with a hook until you finally submit to it, no matter how brute or dumb it first sounds, and then right when you feel like you're endlessly slogging along, an ambulatory corpse propelled by the weight of necromantic suggestion, they come at you with some more epic, clean chorus riff that somehow elevates the whole experience from the fetid, tadpole-infested bongwaters to a tale of olde, high and mighty. The band prides itself on sounding like a bunch of Sabbath-addicted nerds crouched around Cheetos-finger-stained character sheets from some old D&D edition, rolling bones amidst the cloying stench of the last ganja score, and if you know much about me, this could only a compliment.

This is ugly, almost minimalistic doom which inhabits the border between traditional doom, sludge and a little epic heavy metal, as if they were Manilla Road mentality channeled through gnarly Bongzilla riff muscles, and much of Miasma Purple Smoke sticks to this pattern. The rhythm guitar patterns, which skulk alongside the thick, oozing bass-lines, are the antithesis of complexity, but that's exactly how this one sucks you in, especially on the first two tracks, "Barbaria" and "The Rogue", which I consider the best for their acidic, creepy higher vocals. The band also adopts some guttural snarls, which work well in the context, but for me this style never gets quite so memorable as the cleaner intonations, which themselves are often dowsed in effects that make them feel as if they're landing on you from the haze of a psyched out nightmare. Lead guitars are usually painfully basic and bluesy and contribute more as little atmospheric melodies than flashy exercises, and the band isn't above throwing you a curveball like the faster bridge in "The Rogue" where the drums pick up to a modest blast and it almost feels like drugged out black metal (which needs to be a thing a lot more often). You hear this again in "Stuck in the Muck", the mini-track where they almost transform into a weird, sludgy thrash with vocals of the Hetfield variety.

Risks are taken away from the steady muck-dredging, and they don't always succeed for me here. The brief instrumental "Grimdark" with its dim acoustic guitars doesn't add a lot to any of the tracks around it, although I think the subject of 'grimdark' fantasy itself is certainly well within the band's wheelhouse. The bluesier, early 70s Sabbath swagger of the title track is also pretty cool, but the vocals there sound a little strained, especially where they bring in an almost operatic, quivering guest vocal, and it's probably just an idea in need of a little more germination. The real strength of Miasmic Purple Smoke for me is the aforementioned first two tracks, and the excellent 12+ minute closer "The Void Beckons", a vitality-leeching psychedelic death trip with some synthy tones that really capture the acidic excess that the cover art might simple as this one is, I was totally absorbed into it despite any level of repetition...the growls have a great reverb to them and it all just carries along so well. So overall there are about 30 minutes of the 40 here that I'd put right on the level with From the Mire, and well worth losing yourself to, but the shorter bits I could do without, and I had mixed feelings on the title track; I almost think that the band would be better suited to go more adventurous in their longer tracks rather than include the shorter diversions like "Grimdark" or "Stuck in the Muck".

All told, if you'd fancy a mellower, laid back, but subtly menacing sound in the vein of bands like Dopesmoker, Bongripper, Belzebong, Weedeater and Cough, this trio is onto something, and the fantastical influences are also a boon, even if a fraction less pronounced on this one.

Verdict: Win [7/10]