Mini-Reviews: The Lone Bear Edition
This week features new albums from Today is the Day, Tulus, To Conceal the Horns, Havohej & Scáth Na Déithe. Sorry, no foodstuffs today. Whet your appetite elsewhere.
Things have never been easy for Steve Austin it seems. From homelessness to abandonment, he’s been through it all, and it’s always shown in Today is the Day. Between No Good to Anyone and its 2014 predecessor, Animal Mother, Austin suffered a car crash that led to several surgeries and severe misdiagnoses in its aftermath, which almost proved fatal via a wrong medication. Next he had to put down his beloved dog Callie, due to her contracting Lyme disease. She was put down on the spot, but unfortunately for Austin, he had already contracted the dreaded disease. From the overlapping injuries that worked together to bring him down and failed, through loss to feelings of being rejected and resented due to his illness-ravaged looks, No Good to Anyone is a story of survival, even if it rarely speaks directly of Austin’s ailments.
It’s a small wonder No Good to Anyone isn’t a more acrid work, given the anger enclosed in it, but it never contents on spitting bitter venom at all ends. It’s intense and dark throughout, but only occasionally frenetic or violent. Noise rock, metal and sludge burn slow and bright at its heart, but there’s a greater variety within, treated much in the same way Faith No More treated theirs. That’s not where the similarities between the two end either, despite Today is the Day’s more focused sound and less strict reliance on rhythm.
4/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Tulus – Old Old Death
The members of Tulus played together throughout the nineties before morphing into Khold in 2006 as its sibling project. Both bands play mid-tempo, bass-heavy black metal with a twist, which naturally begs the question: why continue as two bands, especially since despite line-up changes, the bands have maintained practically identical line-ups throughout?Considering that 2/3 of Tulus are also active in the similar, but thrashier Sarke, we seem to have a situation of Tuomas Saukkonen-like proportions. Fitting, in that Lars Eikind, known for his participation in several of Saukkonen’s all too similar projects, served as a bassist and guitarist for Tulus (and therefore Khold) once upon a time.
Coming into Old Old Death, however, the lines have become more Stark. Sarke, the work of a larger collaborative group, has swallowed both the thrashiest and the most experimental ideas while Khold has been left with the groove and hook-laden black metal with longer arcs and more varied structuring. Still extremely close to the sound of Tulus, but just different enough to be distinct. Old Old Death features the simplest material the group has come up with. On paper, it comes off as a halfway point between the two other bands, but in reality it goes further down the road of primitivism than Khold ever dared.
Leaving behind the experimental touches of their comeback album Biography Obscene, Old Old Death is rocking at its most leisurely, and borrows lightly from the book of Celtic Frost at its most angular and angriest. Barely passing the 30-minute mark, no song on Old Old Death wastes any time getting to the point, or having more than one point. The lingering opening “Hel” quickly gives way to a speedier, three-chord riff milked for the rest of the song. “Jord” runs around one rocking riff and “I Havet hos Rån” is closer to an early Iggy Pop song than what usually passes for black metal. But the beauty of it lies in playing to your strengths. Almost no song reaches the 3-minute mark, and those that do are the ones that break Tulus’ mold. “I Hinnamannens Hand” spends a minute with acoustic guitar, “Flukt” is driven by an abnormally high tempo for the band, and goes through more moods than the rest, while gently introducing keyboards and choirs to the band’s sound, while “Folkefall” banks doubly on the keys.
There are no bullseyes on Old Old Death, and a few songs aren’t strong enough to stand on their own, but as an album it’s well crafted, each song finding its place and serving its purpose, while the short length ensures the simpler than simple formula doesn’t get too repetitive. Though far from a perfect record, Tulus’ latest is very much a fun record to play.
3,5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Havohej – Tablet of Uncreation
What started out as Paul Ledney’s continuation on the original Profanatica’s legacy eventually morphed into his side-project solo-outfit churning out experimental black and doom metal. Tablet of Uncreation is only the third full-length released under the moniker of Havohej, but when the records are this thick and this dense, there’s no need to put out a new one every couple of years. This record takes the primal black metal foundation of Profanatica and slows it beyond a glacial crawl. Table of Uncreation doesn’t offer much in the way of guitar or bass riffs, nor is it very focused on either instrument at all.
Ledney vomits his vocals over a droning static, noisy ambient or the occasionally struck chord and more often than not you won’t have a clue as to which song is playing at any given time. There are no buildups, no structures and no shifts to mark progress. There’s just abhorrent noise, the vocals familiar for fans of Profanatica, every bit as articulate here as there, but given a more prominent role by the clear mix. It’s his drum work though, which takes up the majority of the record, as if everything else was played and/or composed on a series of improvised beats. Tablet of Uncreation is an unconventional record that won’t be giving much for the majority, sitting uneasily in the same table as ambient or drone bands, but not at ease in the metal corner either. This is a slow mental breakdown in reverse from the mind that gave us Profanatica, and while I don’t know just how much I genuinely enjoy the music for what it is, I can’t help but to feel drawn to it, again and again.
3/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Scáth na Déithe – The Dirge of Endless Mourning
This album explores the relationships between the shallow and often twisted portrayal of Irish folklore and the inspirations behind the tales. The misrepresented and misunderstood truth beneath the murk. This is the intent of The Dirge of Endless Mourning. The wise woman Biddy Early, a supposed associate of evil denounced and ostracized by the clergy, Bean Sídhe, whose eternal mourning as a doomed soul was not pitied but feared and Cailleach Béara, a once-mighty deity reduced to squalor in a move worthy of Pratchett’s Small Gods, are some of the names behind the inspiration of Scáth Na Déithe‘s sophomore full-length.
These four lengthy songs are all low gutturals and thick guitars. A heavy mix, decidedly modern in its ways, and dark, death metal by its gait. Harrowing shrieks and blackened creeks traversed. Scáth Na Déithe often slow down and arrange their material akin to a doom metal band, but the band is oddly tranquil in comparison to many that could otherwise be drawn as comparisons to the dismal extreme metal of hybrid varieties, and a fairly unique gestalt. The Dirge of Endless Mourning is not an easy record, despite the fairly engaging surface, and as it lacks, in a certain sense, the driving motifs, its effect relies on the depths one is willing to sink into to find it. Hiding beneath the murk, not unlike the truths it explores.
3.5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
To Conceal The Horns – Kun Luovun / Transformaation Yöpuolta
These records are the solo project from one Agitathur Vexd, formerly of Alghazanth. You knew I wasn’t going to miss it. In 2019 he released two demos/EPs of dramatic, slow-burning black metal with the slightest hints of death metal, beyond the vocals. Not much to say about it one way or another, the five song Kun Luovun presented a project rooted in black metal of the trees ‘n shit vein, but with added dynamics dug from the (scarce) death metal influence and a comparatively grim outlook. Though simultaneously reaching for the majestic heights of Cosmic Church’s well, cosmic, approach to black metal, much through the careful use of keys, there’s a charming-ish, homespun feeling to it all which draws parallels to the 90’s symphonic movement, but the resulting sound is more monochromatic than the description might let on.
The lengthier songs, “The Abyssic Stream” & “Apotheosis” fair best, allowing for the different influences to better mesh together, and showcase a melodic sensibility not entirely removed from late Alghazanth, whose vocalist Thasmorg makes an appearance in the latter, further driving the comparison. I try to convince myself that I’m merely imagining it at this point, out of withdrawal, I swear the key motif near its end could not be more “A former member trying to emulate the sound of a band in which his tenure was neither lengthy nor formative after its demise” if it tried. But at least the shorter, instrumental pieces are very strongly akin to the melodeath/doom/post-rock of Ghost Brigade, the last album Vexd also played on, for balance.
Transformaation Yöpuolta, released a mere month later, consists of one 20-minute song (and a [dungeon] synth arrangement of the composition as a bonus track for buyers, which I am not included in, and therefore haven’t heard). It brings little new to the table besides its massive size (and why should it) but it solidifies TCTH’s take on black metal and confirms Vexd’s capability of crafting lengthier songs, and hints at his inability to work all of his influences into smaller pieces. It actually fails to build on the dynamic nature of Kun Luovun’s longer songs, following a simpler, more structured vision and it’s not necessarily better for it. It’s definitely not better for it.