The Great January Roundup, Part The First
The last couple of months of 2020 were, as with every year, filled with music, so we didn’t get to all of it. I’ll be rounding a few that strayed to my inbox up with some brand new records from the first months of the new year, and a couple of older albums (think early 2020) that the list season didn’t see fit to re-highlight.
Bütcher – 666 Goats Carry My Chariot
You might remember Bütcher from all the way back in last January, a damn year ago. Or you might remember them from Rolderathis’ list. You might even remember their absence from Emester’s list. Hell, you might outright say the damn thing doesn’t need to be exhumed but I can’t hear you over the balls to the wall extreme speed metal of “Sentinels of Dethe”, the unashamed and unapologetic nature of “Iron Bitch”, the over the top musical and lyrical inspirations of “45 RPM Metal” and “Metalström/Face the Bütcher” and the 666 pairs of hives carrying my chariot towards shores of Viking-era Bathory, to conquer, in the title track.
Plague – Portraits of Mind
Of all the “just” straight-up death metal albums released last year, this one is very close to being my favourite. The production is balanced between the instruments, and separating, allowing the blunt guitars, cavernous growls and the clacking bass to stand out on their own at any time, and there’s no deplorable aspect even to everyone’s favourite point of contention, the drums. The songwriting is never so blasé as to be content with the repetition of only one or two riffs and the fast appearing leads and tempo changes constantly shake things up. Even though Portraits of Mind is decidedly retro in its approach, its music is linked to ’90s death metal in general, and (mostly) not to any particular band alone, nor is it done akin to Skeletal Remains‘ riff-salad, lifting one from there, another from here. And besides the leads, often as suddenly gone as they appeared, there are plenty of riffs of the more twisting and twisted kind which add character to Portraits of Mind and maintain engagement beyond many of its peers.
Pharmacist – Medical Renditions of Grinding Decomposition
If you have even one half-working cell in your brain, the kind that enables thought, regardless of the status of your sentience, you’ll know exactly what this Japanese duo who released an EP, two splits and this full-length on the same year they were founded, sounds like. And if you somehow don’t, welcome to The Toilet, but you should have taken the left at the third turn, after 8 years (7? 9? Shit how many has it actually been?) we’re still not a shit fetishist blog, except after 6pm on Mondays, Thursdays and all Smarch. The only question left in your mind, therefore, should be how much? As in, how much grind, and the answer would be, less than you might have been led to think. Pharmacist is all about that 4-to-6 minute, mid-tempo goregrinding stomp that’s more, but not always much more, about Symphonies than Reek, and most of all, Pathologist. Given that you’ve known whether you’ll like this or not when you read the title, there’s little reason to drag this on any further. In fact, there’s no reason whatsoever and I’m doing it because it’s the only form of entertainment that remains to me in these grim hours. Have at you.
Coffin Curse – Ceased to Be
It’s possible you remember Coffin Curse from the same Toilet Tuesday as Bütcher, or from Sepulcrustseance’s review, but it honestly looks like you don’t. Or didn’t even bother to acknowledge it the first time around. But because I’m a nice guy (for real, ladies), I’m willing to look it over and give you a second chance. Lengthy, tremolo-riff guided melodies largely dominate the record over skank beats, and while blast beats and sudden-ish tempo changes make appearances here and there, it’s the mid-tempo that holds down the law of the curse of the coffin of the Chilean land. And does so without retorting to overt “stomping”, so if you’ve been hankering for that Sadistic Intent debut full-length album that’s totally gonna drop some day, breh, or enjoy Pentagram Chile you ought’nt not unmiss this. Again.
Sarvekas – Of Atavistic Fury & Visions
A newcomer to the Finnish black metal field, debuting straight on Soulseller Records. Sarvekas‘ black metal is, as expected, fast and melodic and through their use of melody, there is an attempt to conquer with infectiousness. Fortunately, Sarvekas does not sacrifice as much on the altar of Catchy, The Fifth Chaos God, as much of their ilk do, occasionally even forgoing the obvious solutions, trusting their songwriting enough to not have to drive the nail 8 feet deep to get the point across. There are both calmer and slower moments scattered throughout the EP, the mastery of which separates Sarvekas from many a blast-happy contestant; however, Of Atavistic Fury & Visions could do with more memorability, so long as the duo keeps in mind that this does not equal catchier songwriting. Brevity and pacing are the band’s best friends on this debut EP, but I’m already looking forward to seeing if they can push their boundaries with a longer format. Despite working the very basics of the genre, Sarvekas stands apart from the Finnish scene at large, which speaks more of its incestuous nature than of Sarvekas’ adventurousness, but it’s a start.
Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice
And this is where I’d use Century Media’s Bandcamp image for Crypt of Ice IF THEY HAD ONE! ~Roldy
We all know Bolt Thrower were one hell of a death metal band. And there’s no shortage of other death metal bands who not only recognize this fact, but want you to know that they know. Many of these bands are good for a spin, maybe even two, but very few survive for as long as it took to regurgitate their ideas. Frozen Soul is one of the better aspirants from the crowd with little, if anything else going for them than their apparent influence. At no more than 40 minutes, Crypt of Ice still manages to get a little stale by the end, and not only would chopping a song have done good for the band, it could also have been chosen almost randomly, so little difference is there between the bulk of Crypt’s songs, which also, unfortunately, means lack of a standout. But mostly Frozen Soul keeps the bar relatively high, and entertaining, so if you know you want something like it, look no further. And you probably already did look. No further. Oh, and suck it Century Media, get on with the times.
Panssarituho – Demo II
Founded in 2019, and having debuted in August 2020, Panssarituho wasted no time in releasing their second demo only a few months later. Warring death metal about war, with hints of punk (but not in the same sense as hardcore kids gone death metal à la Gatecreeper, more like “that didn’t go exactly as we planned it but we don’t give a fuck” kind of punk) and thrashier riffs thrown in for good measure, but sung in Finnish, and that is the main attraction towards this band as far as I’m concerned. Too few death metal bands in general lean on their native language. There’s no great, if any, difference between the two demos; this latter maybe sounds like the members got a little bit better at their respective instruments in-between, most noticeable during guitar solos/leads, which break up the pace of the otherwise very straightforward songs nicely, but since the two sound so alike they might as well have been recorded in the same sessions, I’d be willing to attribute that purely to the songs in question. The production is very rehearsal-like, with the vocals buried and sounding weak, but the bass is boosted very nicely, adding in character and the last song, “Karkuri” doesn’t quite have enough punch to fill its 6 minutes. It’s a mixed bag from a new group, but there’s enough of the good stuff to be hopeful regarding their future.
Ondskapt – Grimoire Ordo Devus
In 20 odd years, Ondskapt has only managed 4 full lengths and an EP. Though, in their defense, nothing’s been heard of them in the last 10. And I don’t think I was the only one who never expected to hear from them again, either. If something would have been heard of them, it would have been the sound of countless members leaving the band, in some cases to be replaced by people who promptly left as soon as the door had closed behind them as well. In the interim, Acerbus rejoined his other band, the once Ondskapt side-project, IXXI to record one more album before quitting again, and gave up his position as an instrumentalist in Ondskapt’s own lines, focusing solely on vocals here, and joined by a team of all-new members, of whom the bassist Gefandi Ör Andlät, who shares the songwriting credits for Grimoire Ordo Devus with Acerbus, has already left.
For a ship equipped with revolving doors, Ondskapt’s music wavers little. In fact, smooth flatness is a terrific descriptor of Grimoire, for better or worse. They’ve still got the blast-happy, Swedish flavour to their style, there’s plenty of tremolo-picked melodies, but nothing especially memorable or even catchy, and while Ondskapt has always liked to take their time, drawing out their compositions and stopping at frequent intervals to drag their feet across the pavement slowly it’s never felt detrimental to them. But now it has begun to feel more like an end than the means. Neither the album, nor the songs gain anything from it, and it’s not done because it’s the way the band likes it done, but because it’s the way it has always been. The few acoustic bits at least help with the pacing of an otherwise very single-minded album. Grimoire Ordo Devus is the kind of music most people will be expecting to hear when they’re expecting to hear black metal (provided they know black metal), even among those with a comprehensive understanding of the genres workings, and you know that’s the kind of music that I like. But while I may be found spinning Ondskapt’s latest many times in the days to come, possibly even years, it’s never fulfilling on any particular way or level, and will never reach deeper affinity.
Dread Sovereign – Alchemical Warfare
Originally coined as Primordial vocalist Nemtheanga’s doom metal outlet on the side by 2017’s For Doom the Bell Tolls, Dread Sovereign had partially re-invented themselves as a dirty, quasi-blackened rock ‘n roll act, and despite a promising, if not always successful beginning, I quickly found any interest in the project waning. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to miss Alchemical Warfare when opportunity knocked, in hopes a new, more even ground had been found. Unfortunately, despite all the good that’s on offer here on the projects third full-length, the deck’s only scattered wider. The blackened filth has been left to gather at the tail-end of the album, in the form of Bathory tribute “Devil’s Bane”, and the Bathory cover “You Don’t Move Me (I Don’t Give a Fuck)”, neither of which really sit too well with the album, although the former does its best, highlighting the band’s status as a side-project for all the ideas Primordial simply won’t stretch into.
There’s plenty of mid-tempo songs reaching for the fine line between classic doom and heavy metal this time around and while these mainly work well, it becomes evident as the album progresses that Dread Sovereign simply doesn’t have the riffs for this line of work. Nemtheanga’s voice is clearly their biggest gun, and while his work is passionate throughout, and allows for shades I don’t remember being present on the latest Primordial, it works best coupled with the slow doom Dread Sovereign began with. Not to mention, this is where the band’s strength lies in as well, so it’s a great shame that it’s little more than a seasoning in the mess that is Alchemical Warfare.
Of the doomiest tracks “She Wolves of the Savage Season” does a fine job of opening the record with a few minutes of smog-thick tension before letting loose, and closes on a three-minute jam, but despite doing so well, it mostly feels like an unnecessary drag. And not content on merely opening most of the songs with the same synth buzz, the jam sections return to plague many a song thereafter. “Nature is the Devil’s Church” tries to recapture what works in “She Wolves…”, but fails and feels aimless, and “Ruins Upon the Temple Mount” spends its entire first half in the mix of a pointless jam and aimless tension-building that never builds to a proper finale. Though the cover notwithstanding no song stands out as poorly as “Her Master’s Voice”, an 8-minute classic hard rock track lost in the middle of it all for whatever reason, and it’s especially painful because it also includes what will no doubt be the most gorgeous chorus of 2021’s first half, and will probably find few contestants in the latter half either.
Having an established, concrete identity that could be built and experimented on album by album, instead of a mess made of a constantly growing number of ingredients would help Dread Sovereign a lot, but then again, having a decent musical idea to go with at least every other song wouldn’t hurt either. A prime example of how to waste a few brilliant ideas by chucking all of your ideas together.