October Roundup: Dungeon Synth, Death, Thrash, Doom & Black Metal
Looking at the latest from Seismic, Desaster, Decayed, Déluge, Tyranno, Malfet, Draconian & Wallfahrer.
Seismic – Seismic
November 13th | Independent
An instrumental doom trio from Pennsylvania, Seismic dates back to 2014, though they only caught proper wind 4 years later; their eponymous EP is only their debut release. Inspired by the likes of Ufomammut, Pallbearer and Yob their sound embraces the rigid riffing that serves as the foundation of the first, though it lacks the multilayered hypnosis which is their draw. The airy leads briefly showcased in “Haunter of the Dark” could hints at the lattermost without the expansiveness of their songwriting, as Seismic’s songs are born out of group improvisation, rarely giving one room to lead over the others in terms of songwriting, and the songs coil around one or two ideas. The closer “At the Mountains of Madness” opens up with what could be an attempt to replicate the passion doom of Pallbearer, but in a murkier context.
Even when the group speeds up and takes its music towards the realms of stoner metal, an influence the drummer’s fluid groove supports throughout, Seismic prefers to keep their music in the dark and with a hint of menace. None of these are influences that leap out right away though, and if they weren’t mentioned in the promo text, I might not have paid them as much attention, for I would not have gone looking.
Some of you may have noticed Seismic has decided to throw their carcasses atop the real mountain of madness, the seemingly endless pile of bands on board the Lovecraft train. Here, it takes a more disturbing guise than usual. The EP is supposed to have been inspired by grief and personal losses of friends, bandmates and family members, but the group has buried all that personal emotion under a mountain of references that could not render them more faceless if they tried.
Though Seismic’s sound is built around a variety of influences it’s a consistent and coherent one, and gives them the makings of their own, supported by some technical decisions, like burying the second guitar not only in the buzzsaw distortion, but also in the mix, save a few leads and solos. But the distinct differences between the two guitars keep both audible. Unfortunately Seismic just doesn’t stand out in any particular way, and the songs aren’t as memorable as the production choices, so I find it unlikely I’ll return to their EP. Off to better things next time.
I’ve been wanting for a new Desaster for ages now. Sure, it’s only been 4 years since the excellent The Oath of an Iron Ritual dropped, but it feels like much more and besides they cancelled their appearance I was set to see shortly thereafter, and I’ve been pining for another chance ever since. Last year they dropped a pretty good 30-years anniversary 7″ in the form of Black Celebration, which also saw the addition of a new drummer Hont, whom had already played with vocalist Sataniac in the ’90s, and now this split with Decayed, so the years since haven’t been altogether devoid of action, but neither is quite enough to sate my appetite for them, serving as appetizers, not as a meal.
Desaster opens with “Await the Immolation” and from its restrained intro through its tremolo riffs, blasts and slower mid section, is a guaranteed Desaster song. Less on the thrashy side of their sound and more on the melodic, it’s a good song in its own right and sounds like Desaster first and foremost. The muddy production keeps it from reaching its full potential as a hellfire ripper, and Sataniac has been placed on top of the mix despite him sounding a little suffocated. Minor quibbles though, and I’m reminded of just how much I’d like for Infernal to return his focus to Desaster now that Moontower has their debut out of the way.
The Portuguese Decayed I am much less familiar with, only having come across their The Nameless Wraith / Morbid Death split LP with Urn before, although they seem to date back almost as far as Desaster. Their closer, “Ritos de Iniciação” fits well with the Germans’ offering, being a largely mid-tempo, thrashing, black metal song. It’s a less melodic affair, focused more on simple, headbanging riffs and a savage vocal performance from either J.A or Vulturius, both credited for vocals.
I suppose both bands have done better, but it’s a sure-fire offering from both, and especially Desaster’s track has already burrowed itself a little hole in the back of my mind, so if you’re not averse to 7″ splits with only a track from each band, it’s a fine offering for fans of both.
Tyranno – March of Death
August 31st |Hellprod records
A Brazilian power trio whose death/thrash looks back to the times of Hellhammer, Sodom and Celtic Frost, much of Tyranno’s mid-tempo stomp could fit in with the newer heavy metal crowd as well, if their vocalist Dyd Bastard sounded more like Rick Thorr or Tann, and less like gargling on gravel finally did the formers voice in. A few faster songs, a bit of variety in the arrangements, some mid-song tempo changes, the keyboard intros to “Heading to the Coven” and “Black Star” and the interlude “Among Damneds and Fools” keep just enough variety up for the songs to not blur into each other, but the songwriting only has one mode and all the riffs are of similar cloth, almost indistinguishable.
March of Death isn’t a bad album though, but it’s not one you’ll get much out of outside drinking with friends and blasting it at full volume. The album highlight “Harder” banks best on the heavy metal side of the band and would fit into the repertoire of many of the aforementioned band’s catalogs with little effort. I should hope future efforts bear more resemblance to that song, and “Praise the Horns” that takes full advantage of their limited arsenal.
Déluge – Ægo Templo
November 6th | Metal Blade
It’s been so long since Déluge last graced us with their melding of black metal and post-hardcore that Stockhausen was actually still undead, and he actually dug it, while Richter was a butt. Stockhausen has since been reburied, his placement on the like-dislike-o’meter regarding Déluge’s sophomore, Ægo Templo is unknown, a Schrödinger’s cat, if you will, or rather perhaps, a Schubert’s box, while Richter is still a butt. Some things never change, and it is a source of comfort in the face of reality’s fleeting nature that some people can always be depended upon. Even if it’s just about being an anus.
Wallfahrer – Lightbringer – Leidbringer
October 8th | Independent
The nature-loving misanthropes of Germany return after a brisk year, with their third offering Lightbringer – Leidbringer. There’s grandeur in their black metal, but it does not come without a piercing sense of sorrow. And thus, they’re drawn to similar fields as the so lovingly named trees ‘n shit black metal, but though their compositions are likewise lengthy, they are not assembled of droning passages or of acoustic segments. No, Wallfahrer places their trust in wistful leads, melodic tremolos, powerful riffs and longing arpeggios, mostly stacking them on top of one another. Samples and the dry, monotonic bark of the vocals, the only part of the music that seethes with the hatred you’d think was required of self-described misanthropes, break through the walls of guitar and drums, but although the band themselves states otherwise, though this might be a contextual misunderstanding, it is glorification that Lightbringer -Leidbringer sounds like, and not of hatred directed at anything.
Malfet – Alban Arthan
October 2nd | Pacific Threnodies/Expansion Abyss Records/Dungeons Deep Records
The “neo-medieval fantasy ambient” or pastoral dungeon synth project, Malfet has produced a number of records in quick succession since its 2018 incarnation. Alban Arthan is named for the modern druidic celebration of a dawning new year, when the wintry darkness is driven away by the sun. And it couldn’t arrive at a worse time, for I’ve naught to look forward to but 8 straight months of darkness, and little prospect of even snow to light my way.
Ruminating on dreams and death, Malfet’s third full length is filled with flickering melodies, some reaching to evoke joys from ancient times, but all tempered by plaintive ambience. Painting pictures of forests and feasts in dim lit halls, it’s an album that carries within it a constant sense of joy, but combated with such darkness that it never truly becomes uplifting. Its moody side is both its strength and weakness, in carving a deeper emotional range, but hindering each from reaching its highest peak. Though perhaps then, it will not feel as out of place in the months to come.
Draconian – Under a Godless Veil
October 30th | Napalm Records
I greatly enjoyed 2015’s Sovran, so much so that I placed it on my top 10 that year. Much has passed since, and not only time. Though I have greatly awaited Draconian’s follow-up, their 7th full-length, Under a Godless Veil, I have found this year lacking greatly in the particular vein of melodoom goodness that they excelled at. It’s with hesitation that I look upon its visage.
Much remains as it once was, the dreariness of Draconian’s music has not disappeared, and at their heaviest, when Anders Jacobsson’s fiery vocals meet the driving doom riffs, they remain as recognizable and fierce as ever. Still they choose to separate Jacobsson and Heike Langhans as vocalists, contrasting each other rather than sharing the stage as I would hope some of these beauty and the beast bands would finally do. In a song or two they briefly do, which only worsens my ache, but Langhans is not reserved solely for the most mournful, calm or serene moments, often sharing her talent over the same riffs as Jacobsson.
But even moreso than before, the weight lie upon her shoulders—she carries the choruses. Deceptively mixed to the background, the keyboards sometimes play more than it seems, but most often fill holes in the soundscape with the violins. There are a few moments when Draconian allows these spaces to endure, as in “Sleepwalkers”, when it returns to its somber introduction around two minutes in, when everything grows quiet save for a lone, slow guitar arpeggio, soon joined by percussion and Langhans, and I cannot help but wish that single moment could’ve endured for so much longer, allowed space for the music to breathe in. Similarly the opening to “Lustrous Heart” sees Jacobsson growl over a simple doom riff coupled with an arpeggio, and every time my heart desires for that arpeggio to cease, to create greater tension with lesser elements.
As I yearn for less, so do I desire more. All too many of Under a Godless Veil‘s songs are built similarly around heavy doom riffs coupled with arpeggios, and all too often I find myself questioning the lack of those sweet guitar leads that almost dominated Sovran. Their absence is the most noticeable quality and in lack of favour from Fortuna, it all too often translates into lack of memorability, and places more and more weight upon the choruses. On the other hand, I have to applaud their use of tense doom riffs, though once more I lament their reliance upon too many elements when these moments come to pass.
Draconian hasn’t whittled their album all from one wood though, and it is all the better for it. “Burial Fields” sees Langhans accompanied only by sparse percussion and a thick veil of keyboards, while “The Sethian” centers around a tremolo-picked riff and doubles down on the fury and “The Sacrificial Flame” comes closest to their old achievements in terms of style. “Claw Marks on the Throne” shows just how far they strike when they make sparser use of their arsenal, building upon the foundation of “Burial Fields”, making perfect use of a solo while introducing their heaviest side, momentarily even resembling older Asphyx after said solo.
While I am indifferent towards some of the material here, the highlights come often enough, and throughout the album—at least enough to maintain its flow. I cannot help but miss what is gone, but Under a Godless Veil stands strong on its own legs, a different beast at its heart, though very similar on the surface. Not perhaps Draconian’s best work, but if it takes another 5 years for an album to materialize, I think it can sate most of my appetite.