29 June 2017

Alternative Heaviness from Strange Corners #1

Featuring Khost, Shadowflag, Mutation, Aiden Baker and Karen Williems, Tombs, Circle, Hawkeyes and The Radiation Flowers.

TOMBS – THE GRAND ANNIHILATION. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Tombs have been in existence for a decade and have supplied three full lengths and a number of Eps and split releases. This then, is their forth album, released through Metal Blade. Throughout their career they have developed a sound largely rooted in black and doom metal, with nuances of post punk and goth. THE GRAND ANNIHILATION appears to carry on this journey, with ‘Black Sun Horizon’, ‘Cold’ and ‘Old Wounds’ rooting themselves firmly in metal. Blackened blasts and cold down tempo sections appear to throw down a gauntlet of intent, ‘we’re back and heavier than ever’. Thankfully, their wider range of influences are allowed to breath on subsequent tracks, with ‘November Wolves’ more atmospheric heaviness blending a little of early Paradise Lost with Sepultura at their finest, a well structured and dynamic track. ‘Underneath’ takes things further into goth territories with another mood laden number pinned down by sung rather than roared vocals which work a treat. The album then shifts back towards a more black metal direction until the all too brief ‘Walk With Me In Nightmares’ hints at something grandiose but instead feels like a thin filling in a metal sandwich. The album closer is ‘Temple Of Mars’, a fine track that blends all the aforementioned ingredients and is a track that perhaps sums up the band well at this juncture of their career. Production is solid without being too polished, leaving a rough edge which I quite enjoy. TOMBS are a band that I personally enjoy most when indulging those elements that are less expected from a band rooted in black metal, namely the hints of post punk bleakness and gothic guitar melodies. https://tombs666.bandcamp.com/album/the-grand-annihilation

Staying very much in black territories, SHADOWFLAG return with album number three ‘THE DELUSION MACHINE’. On first hearing the name I didn’t expect to be introduced to a band with such a clear identity and direction. They could have been so normal. Thankfully they are not normal or typical of the black metal scene in any way. They can be counted amongst those bands who use black metal as a launchpad but then twist and turn, taking in other genres and ideas to enrich what can otherwise prove to be a somewhat bleak proposition. Bands such as Wolves In The Throne Room, Deafheaven, Alcest and Ulver have all opened their arms to other sounds to great effect. SHADOWFLAG likewise open their arms but in a way all of their own by incorporating spoken word and poetry, and exploring greater concepts. The results are often captivating. Opening introduction ‘4010kHz’ highlights something else about SHADOWFLAG that sets them apart. Many bands incorporate electronic elements, or employ a synth player, but so often these are token gestures. Not so here with Carps Carpenter being a very real proposition for worthwhile sonic experimentalism whose embellishments definitely add extra depth to proceedings. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a very metal album, as demonstrated by the searing riffs and Quothorn-esque shrieks to be found within ‘The Beasts That Perish’. ‘Within The Blood Dream’ and ‘Skyscraper’ show a more symphonic flair with simply huge and memorable progressions. It is worth mentioning the production at this point, as it is lush. Everything sits just so and the mix sparkles suitably darkly. I personally enjoy ‘How To Enjoy Smallness With Great Things’ which combines trademark spoken word with moody dark ambience and skeletal guitars to great effect. The remainder of the album lunges back into a ferocity that never sacrifices the inventiveness of the riffs and songs structures. ‘Singularity45’ is particularly impressive with jagged, technical and likeable riffs underpinning a very black sounding vocal mantra. As perhaps expected, this penultimate vicious assault gives way to a final and untitled track of experimental sounds and shortwave-like ambience as also captured by the appropriately named intro. Black metal is far from my home turf, and it takes quite something for a black metal band to lodge themselves on my radar, but SHADOWFLAG have that something. https://shadowflag.bigcartel.com

Shooting off at an entirely different tangent are CIRCLE who have released TERMINAL through Southern Lord. Quite how I’ve managed to miss this Finnish band releasing thirty plus albums before giving them a proper listen baffles me but that lapse is now rectified. Now if someone was to tell me that a band I was familiar with had released thirty albums since their debut in 1994 I’d perhaps be thinking a number of things. Firstly I’d be daunted by the size of any potential task to bring myself up to speed, and secondly I’d be sceptical as to whether any band could have anything interesting left to convey. So, faced with the task of perhaps reviewing a mundane release from a tired band simply going through the motions, I was filled with trepidation. Right away I can tell you that this trepidation was unnecessary. This is an album filled with joy, energy and character. It is also a solid rock album, though one made extremely colourful through psychedelic and progressive flourishes. Testament to their innovative approach, the opening track is the 13 minute opus ‘Rakkautta Al Dente’, a move that might be considered brave if it weren’t aided by a huge fuzzed out stoner riff and a throaty roar that anchors the track either side of more fluid and perhaps improvised wig outs. The vocals quickly forego the roar to give way to soaring classic rock gymnastics, reminding me at times of Ronnie James Dio. The title track follows swiftly behind, wielding such a warm and engaging lead guitar lick that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Pumpkins ‘Siamese Dream’ before another swaggering and delicious Sabbathian riff takes charge.’Saxo’ is introduced by ritualistic doom laden chants that build into a repetitive rhythm decorated with guttural uttered vocal outbursts until suddenly the vocals soar melodically aided by a silky and heavenly progression. ‘Imperriumi’ sets a higher tempo, a frantic mash up of classic stoner rock and something entirely more gleeful with a deliciously clever chord progression. ‘Kill City’ rocks just as hard before handing the job of closing the album to the slightly more sombre ‘Sick Child’, an elegant and still effortlessly skilful way to bring my first experience of CIRCLE to a close. I can only temper my obviously gushing review with an admission that this style of almost operatic rock vocal isn’t my usual cup of tea. The strength of the album overall though is scuh that I feel I will return to it over and over again. https://www.southernlord.com/bands/view/circle

When I first read of Ginger Wildheart forming MUTATION with members of Napalm Death and also featuring guest vocals from Mark E Smith of The Fall I spat my coffee out and nearly fell off my chair. I rushed to investigate and I was an instant convert to the cause. Far more extreme and experimental than I could have hoped for ‘Error500’ was one of my highlights of that year. Somehow I then managed to miss album number two, a mistake I will swiftly rectify, and now album number three MUTATION III – DARK BLACK has fallen neatly into my surprised lap. Firstly I need to utter ‘bloody hell’ because this is so heavy. So VERY heavy. Co-written with Exit International/Jaws of Death’s Scott Lee Andrews and also featuring Devin Townsend, Phil Campbell, Givvi Flynn and Jon Poole, this album is a blast in so many ways. It is intense in ways that surpass the previous Mutations. However, it is also infectiously listenable. Ridiculously well produced and executed, this beast is like a three way fight between Napalm Death, Strapping Young Lad and Meshuggah. It snaps, jerks and punches unrelentingly, sometimes with walls of blast beats, sometimes with the swagger of a confident boxer and sometimes with the delicate touch of a wrecking ball. It is also a brief exercise in extremity, as the ten tracks fly by in under 30 minutes, padded out a little more with ‘Caravan Tapes’ versions of ‘Toxins’ and ‘Victim’. If you are looking for an extreme metal album that punches with panache and is also insanely fun, then look no further, this is simply ace. https://undergroove.bigcartel.com/product/mutation-dark-black-12-vinyl

Also weighing in with something colossally heavy is the new release from KHOST on Cold Spring Records. GOVERNANCE immediately grabbed me as a significant step forward for a band already well versed in their mantra of dissonant and mechanical brutality. The tempo is still glacial, and the weight of the tones produced are still near suffocating, but there is a greater than ever sense of dynamic which makes their attack more ferocious. Think of KHOST like that villain in a horror movie that victim is fleeing. The victim is running, the villain is lumbering slowly but rather than fading into the distance, the villain is ever closer, ultimately striking you down. The eerie transmissions between and within tracks are more evident and more cohesive with the whole than ever before, truly haunting. Haunting choral voices give way to mashing great big lumps of rusty metal on ‘Subliminal Chloroform Violation’. The rhythms are still laid down by a computer brain but they have evolved to take in a greater range of percussive styles, as evident on ‘Cloudbank Mausoleum’ (that also features a guest spoken word passage from Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson), ‘Coven’ and ‘Depression’. The KHOST machine shows evidence of further mutations in the unsettlingly subdued ‘Defraction’ and the ominous tones that usher in closing track ‘Stockholm Syndrome’. A bonus inclusion is the deconstruction of ‘Coven’ by Tel Aviv artist Adrian Stainburner. Comparisons between Khost and Godflesh are perhaps unavoidable at times given their shared heritage and more recent collaborative release, but to my ears, Khost are more single mindedly cold and punishing, more akin to Skin Chamber, the extreme metal offshoot of Controlled Bleeding. GOVERNACE is a huge sounding record, bleak and difficult to consume though ultimately rewarding. It contains numerous new shades of ugliness and desolation and should be explored by anyone who wants to know what it would be like if an abandoned factory came to life in musical form. https://store.coldspring.co.uk/

Right, I feel like I have battered you senseless with the offerings in this blog so far, so shall let you go gently. I shall start in the form of a split release from HAWKEYES and THE RADATION FLOWERS. The first of these two Canadian bands HAWKEYES trade in a blissed out hazy stoner doom vibe. The first of their two instrumental contributions, ‘Atom Heart Mother Fuckers Never Learn’ is the perfect way to pass 12 minutes of your time lying on your back on a summers day staring up through the branches of trees while slightly inebriated. It drifts and gently strides its way throughout with a hypnotic riff, soaring post guitars and some gleeful wah wah abuse. ‘Creator Abuser’ contains more acoustic elements, again warm and fuzzy in sound. The guitars pick out some highly enjoyable harmonies while the track casually drifts to its conclusion. THE RADIATION FLOWERS peddle a different breed of sound. Insistent post punk bass lines surge, ebb and flow with shimmering and somewhat noisy guitars on their opening track ’33 Floors Up’ with the resultant sound somehow sounding quite British. The other two tracks tread more firmly in shoegaze territory with the vocals buried pleasantly in the mix with the reverb soaked guitars . ‘Never Fade’ has a more upbeat hands in the air feel to it while ‘Always On The Ground’ has a more hesitant and fragile approach, gaining a hypnotic strength slowly throughout before surging in a pleasantly noisy way to end proceedings. Two different bands with a shared vibe have come together to release something perfect for those rare British sunny afternoon and if you are feeling blue then I would heartily recommend this sonic medicine. hawkeyes.bandcamp.com/ theradiationflowers.bandcamp.com/

New on Gizeh Records is a collaborative release between Nadja’s AIDEN BAKER and Belgian drummer KAREN WILLEMS entitled NONLAND. It is by far the gentlest release you will find in this issue of my blog. Six tracks are presented here, reportedly spontaneous and improvised. Baker and Williems exercise restraint throughout to keep these compositions atmospheric and somewhat minimal. While Williems supplies percussion throughout, her contribution is poised and balanced and offers an appropriate counterpoint to Baker’s looped and layered guitars. Baker refrains from his trademark heavier tones and instead experiments with shimmers, swells, delay and tremolo. The key word here is ‘mellow’. The album soundscapes as a whole sound suited to a movie score, perhaps to a Lynchian piece, but could also be equally suited to meditation and spiritual journeying. As for their place in this blog, these sounds are the perfect antidote to a hangover or volume related metal tinnitus incident. Blissful. https://www.gizehrecords.com/gzh74-aidan-baker-and-karen-willems-nonland.html