The Great January Roundup, In February: Part The Second
The rounding-out of last year’s releases that we missed and you might have too continues, interspersed with a couple of brand new cuts. We finally had a real winter in Finland again and it got so cold even time froze and it’s still January here.
Valravn – Prey
A newcomer to the Finnish black metal scene that brings nothing new with them. The production style and the riffs are both familiar from an untold number of albums. Generally moving at a brisk tempo, but injecting just enough variety to keep monotony at bay, Prey is loaded with melodies and prone to fits of gloom. It’s not without aggression but apart from the rotten vocal sound, it’s mostly tucked somewhere in the back. In other words, Valravn‘s debut is a Finnish black metal album through and through.
There aren’t many problems with Prey, and especially in smaller segments, it’s a very good first effort, and the band is fairly skilled in their field, but in larger doses, in album length, it betrays a lack of deeper hits. Though it has its ups and downs, even the ups don’t quite sink deep enough and Valravn needs to either develop a stronger character of their own from which to draw listeners into their music, or else find a way to make their music more memorable. From the large mass of up ‘n’ coming Finnish black metal bands, Valravn appears one of the most developable, but there still is a distance to be traveled. Additional points for the vocals.
Grayceon – Mothers Weavers Vultures
I only recently learned that Grayceon had added a 5th full-length to their discography and have only had the opportunity to spin Mothers Weavers Vultures a couple of times, so I still struggle to form a coherent opinion of it. Cello-centric progressive metal and rock that doesn’t lack in guitar or vocal hooks either is what Grayceon is all about, and I doubt many fans would be surprised over Mothers Weavers Vultures’ contents. The songs are longer this time around than last, with two 10+ minuters, and only one sub-7 minuter, and I must say, for my money, it’s also an improvement over the last. Favourite moment today is the bit in “The Lucky Ones” where the thrashy riff dissolves into some Baroness-esque leads and goes right back.
Aindulmedir – The Great Scriptures
Over two years ago, the Swedish Aindulmedir released their first album of winter music for bibliophiles and hermits, as they called it themselves, and not inaccurately so, although someone like myself might feel the need to add they inhabit the deep-toned, minimalist and more ambient-like edge of dungeon synth. Whereas the debut tied in with a novel Pär Boström, the project’s father, was writing at the time, the knowledge concerning the release of which eludes me, The Great Scriptures is a collection of melodic improvisations and night-time recordings. Nothing on The Great Scriptures feels like it was hastily thrown together though, which in itself is something of a feat in a genre that has come to invite as much low-effort material as black metal, but even bigger a feat is that The Great Scriptures doesn’t lack in depth or coherency. I already applauded the rich world Boström had managed to weave into his debut, and I must do doubly so now. The layers and the richness of the music and the warmth of composition all rival the debut’s, and if indeed at least many of these songs are improvisations, then there is magic in Aindulmedir’s fingers that I could not sing praise high enough for.
Lör – Edge of Eternity
Hand up, who knew Lör was coming out with a new one last year? All of you? Fuck you. Not much has changed since their debut, except for the lot that has, but Lör remains as instantly and easily recognizable as ever. Their thrashy, flashy and proggy folk metal remains on brand, and at the top of their game. Peter Hraur’s fretwork is par none, dropping one scorching lead after another, tearing his way through riff after riff, drawing mostly from influences that don’t seem to belong folk metal at all. Folk metal is where my brain wants to locate their musical basis at, but I’m increasingly uncertain about its fairness, and in different hands might never work at all. But therein lies the greatness of Lör—although many of their ideas are great on their own, it isn’t until taking in the whole work that their sound comes together from the way the parts interact with each other.
Bassist Nick Bonsanto gets plenty of opportunities to shine through the mix and takes all of them, but especially the opening duo “Upon a Withered Heart” & “A Life Once Known” take advantage of his performance. Vocalist Tyler Fedeli has a unique, and probably divisive, voice and adds a theatrical flair that frosts the over the top mentality driving the band. The keyboard presence grows towards the middle part of the album, capping on “Ruin” which Bal-Sagoth‘s so hard my ballsacks go hard, and features the most dynamic songwriting on the album, flexing that prog-dick as hard as the debut did. Elsewhere, while the approach to the songwriting remains the same, the madness has been slightly toned down, and as a result the 11-minute opuses have become 6-to-7 minute songs, meaning Edge of Eternity clocks at less than half of In Forgotten Sleep‘s runtime. Probably the best thing I missed last year.
Rome – Parlez-Vous Hate?
I first became better acquainted with the band through 2019’s Le ceneri di Heliodoro, which was somehow three albums ago. It seemed at first an excellent and addictive neofolk album, but further inspections revealed a flawed, inconsistent album with moments of that brilliance, and especially the addictiveness, limited into a handful of songs. Nevertheless, the few songs did make it a worthwhile spin, and I was glad to venture into their older material, much of which still remains a mystery to me, but what I have dug up seems to support the conclusion. Of the material that’s dropped since, The Dublin Session failed to engage and the star-studded cast could not save that travesty of The Lone Furrow.
Parlez-Vous Hate? adjusts their scope beyond that of neofolk. A number of guest musicians to bring the sound towards that of a fully fledged band isn’t anything new on a Rome record, but it’s more consistently present here than on many other albums, and while the man and guitar approach is still the dominant one, practically every song has been rounded out with percussion and additional guitars at least. Lyrically Jerome Reuter doesn’t delve far from the tried and true themes of love, death, belonging, pain and nationality, but Parlez-Vous Hate? ties them together in manner that seems to turn the gleeful gaze onto the tired traditions of the genre itself, instead of repeating them again and again. Though Parlez-Vous Hate? doesn’t always bring out the most addictive Rome, it’s the most consistent album in their discography that I’m yet aware of.
Meurtrieres – Self-titled
Heavy metal with a strong hard rock edge, and veering towards medieval themes, Meurtrières is a newcomer to the French heavy metal scene inspired by the country’s past dabbling in the scene, but also by some British stalwarts. Refreshingly, though that does mean an Iron Maiden influence, it’s channeled from their earliest, DiAnno-era, work. The punky influence that follows with that territory (though the band apparently claims no punk bands were an influence here) works as a wonderful intermediary between the rock and metal sides. I can hardly wait to hear more from them, though they’ve apparently, maybe(?), already had to change vocalists and that would be a damn shame.
Dipygus – Bushmeat
If last time’s Pharmacist was not enough to sate your appetite for gory death metal, California’s Dipygus has a different, but similar take on the genre, purely for your pleasure. Although the name of Carcass seems to be thrown around at default anytime death metal does get gory, it’s not a name that once bounced to mind because of a musical similarity during Bushmeat. Dipygus excels at slower speeds, or so they at least seem to think to themselves, given that that’s where Bushmeat spends a considerable amount of its running time, and I’m inclined to agree with the band, at least partially. It’s there where their twisted riffs and leads reveal best the Autopsy flavour, and those make for the album’s best moments. Respectively, the band has a tendency to get outright grindy when they start blasting, and between these two the band will constantly twist between permutations of previous ideas and introductions of new ones.
The vividness of both the riffs, as well as the arrangements is outright surprising for death metal of this caliber, not only is there constantly something new going on, often Bushmeat will appear to be building towards something, then dart into an altogether different direction, or begin unraveling only to instantaneously turn back and pretend nothing happened. The tempo changes and shifts between ideas are often abrupt, but never want for more considered transitions, or feel awkward or riff-salad-ish. Yet, at 37 minutes, Bushmeat should feel like practically a breeze, but it does not go down easily. Now on the other hand, this is a very good thing, and there is a lot to digest after all. And yet it feels like the reason it doesn’t go down so well, is because it isn’t that good. But if I were to describe it in short, to someone knowledgeable in the ways of gory death metal I would need no other words than “marvelous” & “exciting”. Truly, I am at a loss here, and will no doubt spend the coming months trying to wrap my head around the problem. Could it be that the clashing of the ideas itself is such a big part of the fun that the individual ideas aren’t as good on their own? No, they are. Could it be that in its 37 minutes there’s simply too much? Well, there’s no obvious places to trim, and the difficulty is apparent from a very early point besides. In the meantime, Dipygus and Bushmeat have my most sincere recommendation, even if it comes with reservations. Maybe.
Pharmacist / Expurgo
Speaking of Pharmacist, the full-length debut we spoke of last time has been followed with an expanded version of their preceding EP and two splits with Golem of Gore and Oozing respectively. Of these, Thanatological Reflections on Necroticism is somewhat cleaner, though still distorted and messy, but in a way that allows for the band to make the most of all of their riffs, and reveals the sickening groove that makes them irresistible in all their splendor. Whereas Ambulatory Sonic Suppuration goes for the throat with a noisier, more distorted, production that tends to blur the less groovy riffs and grindier moments. Musically there’s little difference between the two, and it isn’t brought in great heaps by their possibly latest effort, a split 7″ with the Brazilian cult grinders Expurgo either.
I say possibly because it isn’t included in the metal-archives yet, Pharmacist’s Bandcamp claims February 2nd for the date, the label’s Bandcamp site says it’s been out since December 11th, but their website neglects to mention it, despite featuring updates later than said date, which could imply the physical copies are yet to be released altogether. Expurgo’s Bandcamp hardly helps either, given that it only features the Entropic Breath digital EP released back in July, the physical version of which their half of the 7″ is.
Whether it’s out or not doesn’t ultimately matter, and what does is that Expurgo’s half is a sharp grindcore kick in the teeth, with 5 songs that hardly clock more than Pharmacist’s lone offering “Unstoppable Lymphatic Liquefaction”, one of their loudest efforts to date, featuring scant, presumably sampled keyboards, a percussive performance that still makes me question whether the band actually is a duo or not, and a more straightforward, tremolo-riff laden gore-banger with considerably less of that juicy groove than on everything else they’ve put out (I said heaps, not in heaps, not that it didn’t bring anything new to the table at all).
Chevalier – Life and Death
Not ones to miss a year, Chevalier put out a two song EP towards the end of the year. I’d say that it’s excellent and standard fare for the band, but I’d be lying. Except for the bit about excellence. Both “Deathstalker” and “Lifegiver” see the band steer their music harder towards heavy metal than before. It’s a strain that has always existed strong in Chevalier, but it feels the speed metal side has been stripped down (almost) completely this time around, and on the first song Emma gives her best Cirith Ungol impression, making it one of the best, and most memorable cuts from the group so far. There may or may not be something going on with the band’s drummer situation as well, as the drummer isn’t credited as Joel here, but as Rentor, a name guitarist Tommi has been known to use, but there’s been no announcement on that front.
Blackevil – Forever Baptised in Eternal Fire
As much as I hate myself for belting this out: BORN OF BLACK WIND, FIRE AND STEEL – BORN OF BLACK WIND, FIRE AND STEEL – BORN TO TEACH THEM ALL TO HEEL – BORN OF BLACK WIND, FIRE AND STEEL
Fuck Blowey DeMayo and his troupe for all eternity, but few things describe Blackevil‘s black ‘n’ speed ‘n’ thrash ‘n’ heavy metal concoction as said lyrics to BLACK WIND, FIRE AND STEEL. Just imagine an unholy orgy of Iron Maiden leads, Judas Priest leads, Deathhammer leads, high pitched speed metal screams, dry growls, catchy choruses and insanely catchy choruses. Now stop thinking of Bütcher. Try to imagine a band that was less firmly placed in the speed metal category all the time, and was as based on second wave-ish black metal about as often instead, and you won’t be far off. Can’t help but to miss something in the style of “Heavy Forces Marching On” though.
Vampire – Rex
A rabid blackened-ish thrash metal band playing Mercyful Fate is a thought that not infrequently enters the mind when Rex is playing. It’s got just the right amount of newer influences, or puts together the old stuff in a way that seems new enough, to keep it from becoming outright redundant, despite Vampire‘s largely throwback nature. If there’s something to complain about it’s that
Century Media still doesn’t have a Bandcamp site, despite supporting DEFINITELY VERY GOOD platforms like Spotify a lot of Rex‘s songs are in the same tempo. As in, all of them, more or less, so they blur together just a bit, which makes it difficult enough to pick favourites that Rex doesn’t quite manage to overtake it’s predecessor.
Thecodontion – Supercontinent
You remember Thecodontion , right? Once an all-bass war metal band of sorts, the initial idea has grown thousandfold in ambition. With spaced-out interludes, an added sense of melody and bass solos, progressive-minded arrangements, war metal-styled drumming that doesn’t limit itself to blasting and familiar death metal rhythms, Supercontinent has kept what formed the basis of Thecodontia and Jurassic, but added dynamism and scope beyond the wildest implications of the two. The result is one of the most singular extreme metal albums of the last few years, which draws comparisons to older Barathrum partially out of the necessity brought by such bass-driven black metal, but at other times is equally reminiscent of a noise rock band.