Roundbear Roundup: Post-Christmal Tristesse
The holidays are over and you’re feeling a little blue. Your consumerist impulses haven’t been sated, you didn’t fight with your family bad enough and your nephews still think of you as the cool uncle. But all is not lost, you still have time to destroy all those familial relationships before the new year. And you can still
drown immerse yourself in all the music you didn’t have time to catch last year. Starting with these.
Or you could, you know, give each a couple of spins and see if they truly resonate with you. Then maybe see about getting this or that. Digital is cheap, yes, but won’t sate your basest material impulses anyways. So why not take a minute.
Church of the Dead – Beyond Death
In the beginning, there was a multi-EP plan, and Church of the Dead briskly set out to fulfill it. One short of their goal, the machine caught fire and died down. It took them a bit—time, vocalist change and rethinking their direction—to get it running again. 5 long years after the fire, a charred—even blackened—eponymous album arrived. And a good three years later they returned from Beyond Death, almost unrecognizable. Though still keeping one hand on death metal, the other is reaching further still into black metal than before—with a twist of the Ol’ Swiss Beanie-head.
“Ashes of the World” and “Wormwood” feature the most obvious second-wave styled tremolo riffs, but especially on the latter the Swedish-sounding rhythm guitars and beat hold firmly on the throat of death. The grandiose closing number, “Floating in Blood” and the first single “Tombdweller” highlight Kride Lahti’s melodic and inventive guitarwork, while the surprise cover of Mayhem’s “Chainsaw Gutsfuck” and the following, d-beat laden shot of energy, “Whore of Eden”, features the band’s crustier, punkier side the strongest. This, luckily, has little to do with the usual fare of hardcore-kids-turned-to-lowest-common-denominator-death-metal slack of trying. But what hit me hardest, are the slower parts. The first 3/4ths of “Chainsaw…”, the delightfully titled opener “Dawn of The Wizard” and especially the oppressive and epic video-song, “Christborn (Thy Kingdom Scum)”, which recalls in its chorus KYPCK, and not only because of the weight and depth rarely achieved by others.
Pairing the songs as strictly as this does no justice to Beyond Death though. There’s always a strong, unified vision over direction here. Many of the influences I’ve distinguished in one song, appear on others; for example the very Brit-doom inspired sections of “Ashes of The World”, or the CF & d-beat of “Tombdweller”. The band isn’t entirely unrecognizable from their old days either, as “Dawn of the Wizard” is, in fact, an old song dusted-off and rearranged with some more intricate guitarwork—mainly some broken chords in the verses and a stronger melodic undercurrent in the chorus. And these small intricacies characterize the entire album.
Church of The Dead’s second album is largely a mid-tempo affair, but offers enough dynamics as not to freeze in one place. The tempos, the groove and variations between songs keep the band from over-relying solely on its strengths. Even though their power is greatest at slower tempos and simple moods, there is no fear of trying their hand at blasts or more elaborate structures. The band even takes an extra mile out of their bassist Antti Poutanen’s background as a classically trained cellist. Especially the beginning of “Chainsaw…” and the ending of “Floating in Blood” benefit from this, growing to another sphere.
Shortly after the recording of the album, their drummer Tommi Makkonen-Viheriälehto decided to vacate his position, and after only a handful of shows with the new and capable drummer Seppo Tarvainen, did Jussi Salminen see that the end of his tenure as the Churches vocalist had come. A true shame, as he sounds monstrous here, with the exception of the Mayhem cover, where they decided to replicate the originals effect-hell for whatever ill-guided reason. Hopefully they’ll find their ranks filled soon, for Beyond Death deserved much more of a fanfare than it got.
Ironsword – Underground
Ever since 1995, Tann has tirelessly championed the burly, muscular, good ol’ fashioned heavy metal with Ironsword. Having to reassemble the ranks after both the fantastic None But The Brave and the awe-inspiring Servants of Steel, may have slowed him, but he never stopped. Now, with Phil Ross and Neudi—the final rhythm group of Manilla Road—in tow, and Portugal’s own Alma Mater Records at his back, he is more than prepared for another round. The first taste of his new band of merry barbarians has arrived in the form of Underground, a four-song EP heralding next year’s upcoming full-length.
Ironsword’s sound has never shied away from ample Manilla Road influence, but usually it has been of the more beefed up Crystal Logic/Open The Gates style of heavy metal. The opening title track still recalls the strength of those arms, as if easing into the band’s renewed approach. Most of Underground sees Tann enforce a more deliberate ’70s psych and doom-infused idea of that heavy metal, familiar perhaps to fans of Dreams of Eschaton or Spiral Castle. Not only does the EP function as the re-establishment of Ironsword as a functioning band, it also acts as a further celebration of Mark Shelton, his work and his influence on the Portuguese.
Rick Fisher, the drummer of Manilla Road’s first three albums lends his hands and feet for “A Witch Shall Be Born” and Randy Foxe, who followed Fisher on the throne, proves time has not eaten away at his chaotic style on “Tombs of Eternity”. The two remaining songs, underline how well Phil Ross’ fluid bass playing works with Tann’s riff-trove and Neudi, who hits heavier than Rick and more strictly than Randy, proves himself the right man in the right place as well. The warmest possible recommendation for this platter of heavy metal goodness.
Ausadjur Hymns – Orcus, Aurae and Ausadjur
You may find yourself thinking: “Ausadjur, isn’t that the place Valdrin is always going on about?” And to that I would respond “Into the goddamn locker you go, you goddamn NERD!” like the big burly brother bear that I am. But you would also be correct, yes. Ausadjur Hymns is, of course, the project of one Carter Hicks—the mastermind behind said Valdrin. It’s a synth-based project that expands and explains the mythos wrought on the parent band’s albums. Although mostly it just expands and doesn’t bother to explain anything, as it is an instrumental project with no physical release or a digital PDF booklet. The music though, is very evocative and the titles will help you place at least some of the songs, in the case you’re already familiar with the mythos from having thoroughly acquaintanced yourself with the four Valdrin albums. Or you could check the “Ausadjur mythos” videos here.
Musically, dungeon synth feels too narrow a descriptor. This may be due to the decisions to break this niche genre into dozens of even more niche micro-genres, often seemingly arbitrarily, followed by insanity and stupidity that played no small part in my abandoning of the scene. Which I’ve still not fully returned to, despite enjoying its fruits. Something may have rubbed off though, as I find myself looking for specific sounds and ideas to determine whether Ausadjur Hymns fits, or not.
Largely, it does. “Aurae: The Diamond Moon’s” night-time swing and “The Ordinance of Mater Ausadjur’s” shifting moods offer a brisk-paced but traditional look into the genre’s more light-hearted and fantastical edges. “The Spirit Genome” however, feels more like a piece composed for an old (J)RPG, but by the end has tranformed into something akin to Harry Gregson-Williams’ early aughts soundtracks. There are numerous other frays explored as well. “Her Ghost Becomes Orraline” is a short, neoclassical piano arrangement at its core and “When The Endtime Wraiths Return” runs on a soft drug-techno beat. So while all of the album is worth your time, even if you’re not invested in the mythos, but are only here for the synth-based goodness, Orcus, Aurae and Ausadjur feels much more like a collection of unlinked ideas packaged together than an album.
Guterus – Verminiscence
Morocco’s not the first, nor probably the third, country to come to mind when you’re thinking of hotbeds for awesome death metal. One band does not a hotbed make, but Guterus is looking to make all the difference. Last year’s Tomb Eternal demo introduced a strain of avant-garde brutality with influence from fusion jazz. Yet removed from the likes of later Atheist, Guterus’ influences remained at all times tied to their death metal heart, never mellowing down to highlight the other side.
On Verminiscence the band, now spread between Paris and Casablanca, doubles down on the brutality and delivers a somewhat more dissodeath influenced follow-up. Blending psychedelic flavours with forward thinking, techy, brutal death metal, it still holds onto all of its predecessor’s brutality and doubles down on the aggression. The sharper tonality and more demanding, jagged songwriting still let the fusion influence shine through, but warps it as it passes the crystal threshold. A short, but extremely rewarding EP you’d do yourself a massive disservice not checking out.
The band also released a 12-minute song, “Des Séraphins en Hybris”, which did away with most of the brutality in favour of an unnerving melodicism and a heavy bass presence cutting through the more black metal-like layers of guitar dissonance. Also very much worth your time.
Nithing – Agonal Hymns
I like to dive into the garbage pail that is modern brutal death metal and
eat swim to my heart’s content, and just flail around in the bits and pieces. One of the easiest access routes to this pail is, of course, New Standard Elite. But I’ll be honest with you, there’s not a lot that will stick with me, even when I’m not wearing my AntiStickCoat (patent pending). And it’s not an NSE problem, it’s a modern brutal death metal problem. And by modern brutal death metal I, of course, mean that variety of styles that’s hardly very modern anymore, having begun to emerge over 20 years ago, that were so much further removed from older strains of death metal that they necessitated the existence of a prior form of brutal death metal—Suffocation, Deeds of Flesh et al. So when such an album that is of that particular strain of brutal death metal should appear, but with ambitious songwriting and offering riffs with true staying power, it is a true ilon ja onnen päivä, as we say.
The work of one man, Gorgasm & Iniquituous Deeds drummer Matt Kilner, Agonal Hymns is short, sweet and to the point, clocking in at a mere 23 minutes. The barrage of sewer vocals, snare going *pong*, and a variety of riffs melding into an avalanche is as overwhelming as on any underwhelming Enmity-worship record. But the vocals aren’t quite one-note, the drum performance is nothing short of amazing and the riffs are genuinely great, not just noisy. There’s a kind of an proggier twist to many of them, but the likes of Defeated Sanity aren’t very far away from the mind either, as Nithing goes on about it’s business.
While Agonal Hymns only really lets go once throughout its 23 minutes (with “God: Emaciated”, a short interlude before the final kill), there are a few moments of calculated cruelty, where the fastest onslaught gives way to a relatively more relaxed tempo to either build tension like “Feverish Pemphigoid Worship” as it transitions into “The Seeping Pus of Ancient Wounds”, or call to re-focus attention like the damn-near industrial intro to “Lustral Cognitive Erosion” or the multitude of rabid solos, eerie melodies and scant synths appearances scattered throughout the album. Nithing’s full length debut is an exhilarating piece of brutal death metal that leaves you a little hungry for more, but not usually quite ready for another meal right away.