April Roundup: Candlemass, Graceless, Torchia, Crypt Dagger, Khôra, Nerve Saw & Mavorim
This time I actually like something. I swear.
Candlemass – The Pendulum
Only a year or so after their first LP with the returning Johan Längqvist, the vocalist of their legendary debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, though technically an actual member for the first time, Candlemass is back to celebrate their “newfound inspiration” with an EP. The Door to Doom wasn’t a masterpiece, but I enjoyed it much more than practically anything recorded during Lowe’s tenure, so I was fairly excited to be getting more so soon.
The title track, disregarding that it sounds like Edling was ticking the obligatory check list while writing it, and that its verse is literally Black Sabbath’s “Symptoms of the Universe”, gets off to a good start—an acoustic intro, a slow, powerful chorus and a righteous solo topped with a subtle touch of keyboards. By no means a new classic, and continuing in the vein of modern Candlemass rather than actually looking back to their earlier years, but proof that though Edling may long have lost the doom-crown to a younger generation, he’s still more than up to holding his own.
Then I found out the rest of the songs are demos. And at first, the difference in sound quality felt insulting. How difficult would it have been to actually properly record the rest of the songs, or at least the two other songs worth a damn? Napalm would’ve more than likely been glad to pay for a couple of days of studio time.
Maybe these were recorded during the Door to Doom sessions, leftovers of which they were. And with repeat spins, the difference doesn’t feel so great after all. “Snakes of Goliath” is a decent, rocking, modern day Candlemass cut. The kind that fills their lesser records. Not a bad song, but besides its guitar solo, a blase one that you’d think Edling would still be able to snore out in his sleep. “Porcelain Skull” is essentially an Avatarium cover, one of the three songs Edling wrote for the record, despite having ended the association of his physical phenomenon with the band years ago, and the difference between the two versions is achingly manifest, and inexplicable with mere demo status. In comparison with Avatarium’s passionate performance, Candlemass’ resembles an indolent read-through.
The remaining three cuts are two acoustic interludes and a minute-long brainfart where Edling, bored out of his mind, picks two or three notes on his bass for a minute or so. On an entity of this scale, though calling The Pendulum an entity instead of an incoherent collection of trash can pickings is a long shot, they add no atmosphere whatsoever, reduced to unwarranted bloat. This isn’t even fan service, just cashing in on their expense and if I understood from whence it arose, I’d call it a scream of desperation.
Graceless – Where Vultures Know Your Name
In the mid-’90s, Remco Kreft founded a progressive-ish death metal band called Xenomorph. A few years later, Jasper Aptroot and Marc Verheer became its rhythm group. In 2010, Nailgun Massacre, a considerably simpler affair, rose from its still smouldering ashes. Fast forward another 10 years and Graceless is releasing their sophomore full-length. The connection between all three? Kreft, Aptroot and Verheer.
A doomier band than the trio’s previous groups, now teamed up with guitarist Björn Brusse, Graceless is armed not only with the collective experience of its members, but also that of the entire Netherlands’ scene, snippets of which can be heard throughout the album. Some are more evident than others, as demonstrated by “Warpath’s” and “Here Be Dragons'” channeling of modern day Asphyx, or the title track’s obvious The Rack tribute. Considering that Kreft played in Grand Supreme Blood Court, when it had engulfed, and not yet regurgitated, the entire classic line-up of Asphyx, and that both him, and Verheer, are members of Soulburn, a band that literally once was Asphyx.
Graceless’ influences don’t stop at that borderline, though; the title track’s latter half’s groove-doom channels the British Cathedral rather than any death metal band. But the underlying sound, the harsh, warlike march and the blunt, chug-heavy riffs draw parallels to the debut era Hail of Bullets. Graceless is both more consistently doomier and more consistently boneheaded, and not as eager to show their melodic side, but the way they layer their trundling, single-minded rhythmic attack with chugs and melodies, as well as the melodic flavour itself, draw parallels to the deceased giant.
Therein lies the strength and weakness of Where Vultures Know Your Name. The monotone rhythms and boneheaded riffs ensure the songs blur together, especially on the first half, and while the songs on the second half include more distinct sections to themselves, the monotone drum work has by then grown too homogeneous for the added variety to counter. As some of you may have deduced, Graceless doesn’t always rise above its influences, and while they have a consistent sound that isn’t somebody else’s, it doesn’t fully feel like theirs either. Lack of A-grade material doesn’t much help, and the only stylistic standout, “Embrace the Rain”, an album highlight where the band dives deeper into their doom bag and distills a pinch of gothic atmosphere, doesn’t arrive until the very end, which made initial listens a slog to get through. Some of the issue did fix itself with further spins though, and WVKYN is a very good, if not ultimately rewarding working man’s death metal record.
Torchia – The Coven
Torchia’s 2017 debut, Of Curses and Grief, came seemingly out of nowhere and its melodeath/thrash quickly found a regular spot on the table. The theatrical live shows didn’t quite hit home, but there was a genuine attempt to engage through unusual means, and with little improvement, no doubt the band would hit as hard on the stage as they do in the studio. The Coven trusts a similar approach, but attempts to tighten all the screws just a bit more.
Melodic death metal with a slightly technical flavour is very much the name of the game, but the thrashy side has slightly been reduced. Instead, The Coven introduces a much wider variety of influences, more uplifting melodies (scattered far and wide as they may be), a much stronger vocalist, whose newfound confidence and power enable a more convincing and versatile performance (I mean, it’s the same vocalist, but he’s improved greatly) and far stronger songwriting occasionally hinting at progressive wavelengths.
On the other hand, the loss of the thrashy attack is a grave one, having largely been responsible for the finest moments of their debut. The Coven is easily more consistent than Of Curses and Grief, which struggled on its back-half, but the consistency turns against Torchia, as it’s now missing its finest riffwork and fails to maintain interest between the opening duo and the closing “Forever Blood”. Torchia is now a tighter unit, and a better band by practically every measurable way, but in the long run The Coven, despite the better realized ambition, is a little too safe follow-up for a record that lacks the element of surprise that propelled its predecessor. Further fleshing out their growing ambition as songwriters could already do miracles for the band, but what they need now is a hit. That one song which keeps you coming back to the record. They’ve already got most other aspects nailed down.
Crypt Dagger – From Below
Does a band worshiping the early days of Celtic Frost, with loud bass, punk-vibes, highlighted in the closing Dead Moon cover, and speed metal screams sound alluring to you? Of course it does(n’t). Maybe there’s a shred of other bands in there too. Like Venom, or Hellhammer, or Bathory circa “Under the Sign…“. Germany’s Crypt Dagger is quite far from an original sound, even if there are moments that could lead someone to believe that in the future the Karlsruhe trio could find their own angle of incidence to the well trod sound, in the future. Or maybe not. It doesn’t matter. What does is From Below being 24 minutes of extreme fun. With names like Poser Disposer and the inclusion surf riffs, it’s hard to believe these guys went into the studio/rehearsal space/wherever with the intentions of creating a masterful work for the ages, but at this point the question has become why should they?
Khôra – Timaeus
Weird, cosmic black metal coiled around its mastermind Oleg I., rounded out on Timaeus by Dödheimsgård bassist L. E. Måløy and vocalist Kranos, who also shared the lyric and keyboard duties with Oleg, and a whole cavalcade of guest musicians. And when I say weird, I mean fairly accessible black metal that nevertheless draws comparisons to the early masters of the Avant-side of the genre, the likes of Ved Buens Ende, whose Vicotnik appears here for vocals on one track.
Timaeus, or Timaios, is one of Plato’s dialogues, on which the record is loosely based, and Khôra itself, in Plato’s writings, represented an interval between the states of being and non-being, in which the Forms, or ideas, were received from the intelligible realm and became the shapes of the sensible realm. And if the concept seems hefty, so is the sound which represents itself. Dissonant riffs and cosmic atmosphere are interspersed with electronic and symphonic influences, a freely rumbling bass and fairly involved percussion titivate the record.
But Khôra keeps the majority of their songs below 4 minutes, catchy riffs and choruses, even emotive baritone cleans especially reminiscent of Ved Buens Ende, make appearances all over the album, keeping its growing auditory thickness in check.
Nerve Saw – Peril
Originally envisioned by Sadistik Forest frontman Markus Makkonen a decade ago to perform more boneheaded, “pick up truck” death metal, as he called it, while SF headed to a more technical direction, Nerve Saw‘s debut has taken a long time to arrive. Though Makkonen recorded a solo EP in the truest sense of the word, it would fail to materialize from the label’s vaults until another one picked it up a few years back. Between the recordings of the two Nerve Saw releases, SF put out two full-lengths, took a break during which Makkonen performed as part of Hooded Menace, and returned to release their third on Transcending Obscurity just two years ago, and Nerve Saw has reimagined itself.
They’re still boneheaded, but now combine punk and death metal, and when I say punk I don’t mean the Gatecreeper kind of mosh-riffs and breakdowns hardcore that death metal’s been full of for a while. This is a more genuinely punk approach in the old school sense, though it’s still drawing parallel to the aforementioned approach. Now a trio rounded up by guitarist Heikki Matero and drummer Michael Dorrian, Nerve Saw loads their catchy metalpunk with harsh tones into short bursts, with only a few ever reaching the three minute mark. These also tend to rely on the death metal half the strongest, with the exception of the groove-laden midway epic “Empty Heart” built on one, groovy riff.
Makkonen favours a higher pitched growl and the pace is never picked up through the record, the more DM-reliant songs, not limited to the longer ones, and the obligatory Motörhead cut “The Eye of the Golem”, break up the three-chord monotony nicely, but it’s there the band is at its best. Though not a unique approach, it’s refreshing to hear a take on death metal usually harnessed by black/thrash bands. Still, it’s rather a curiosity, a glimpse into another, less sought way to combine the two influences together, and not so much one for the ages. Even if the ages were short.
Mavorim – Axis Mundi
Since its 2014 birth, the German solo project Mavorim has been putting out a steady stream of releases, and within the last few, it’s also been getting steadily better. Melodic black metal channeling the 90’s is strongly the basis, but folk-tinged guitar melodies, mostly brief synth sections, and clean vocals mix things up a bit. The clean vocals are definitely a progression towards the better and often when they’re occurring, the sole member P. accompanies them with sturdier, pagan metal-like sections, further bringing variety to the record.
Even though Axis Mundi comes armed with the most memorable melodies Mavorim has ever wrought, it still lacks for actual killer material, and could use heavy trimming. At 66 minutes, it seems more than pointless to have included a cover and an alternative vocal version of a song, in the manner of bonus tracks, but as a regular part of the standard album. Even without these extra 15 minutes, many a song on Axis Mundi could have used condensing when many of them also tend to blur together outside a few central motifs. At its best, Axis Mundi is very good, folk-tinged and lightly synth-laden black metal. Working on its few twists to make for a more unique sound, and trimming the length, Mavorim could be onto excellent things.