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]