Reviews Round-Up 002: Psychedelic Drone, Progressive Doom and Yet Another Surprise Release

Chrch – Light Will Consume Us All

Chrch have come a long way in a short time. The Californian band’s debut, Unanswered Hymns, released under the name Church, was a masterful journey of cosmic doom, taking the listener from the depths of the earth to the glories of the stars. This was followed up by last year’s split with Fister; and now comes Light Will Consume Us All, an album that should see the band’s profile raised considerably. They certainly deserve it, as this is another tour-de-force of cathartic doom and sludge, possessed of considerable emotional power and an almost spiritual sense of meaning.

Consisting of three lengthy tracks (the shortest, closer ‘Aether’, is just shy of ten minutes; opener ‘Infinite’ is the longest at just over twenty-one), Light Will Consume Us All is an album that is content to take its time to reveal its strengths and secrets. Some are evident right from the first listen – the length of the songs gives them plenty of time to construct gorgeous, spacious soundscapes that can verge upon drone in their hypnotic nature, and for the songs to be free to explore whatever direction they wish. But it does mean that it can be easy to lose direction on early listens, especially on the first two tracks – their length means that the over-riding narrative and sense of focus they possess isn’t initially obvious, and it takes a few listens to appreciate what the songs are doing.

But, once you have a grasp on what Light Will Consume Us All is aiming to do? It becomes a captivating, meditative album, one that is perfectly suited for late-night soul-searching, when your place in the world (both on a small and larger scale) is unclear and you need something to remind you of why you wake up each day. In that sense, Chrch are a band that have a lot in common with the likes of Neurosis, making it a natural fit that Light Will Consume Us All is being released via Neurot Recordings. And like the Californian post-metal pioneers, Chrch sit equally within light and dark, occupying an interesting space between redemption and damnation; suffering and release; catharsis and torment. The end result depends, in part, upon how you approach the album, which is something that speaks to its credit. This is a superb album, full of power and emotion, and should see Chrch take their place as modern-day doom heavyweights.

Light Will Consume Us All is out now on Neurot Recordings. Purchase here.

Words: Stuart Wain

Astral Noize

Bong – Thought And Existence

Thought And Existence, the newest rite from psychedelic drone/doom outfit Bong and their first since 2015’s We Are, We Were And We Will Have Been, consists of just two tracks that together come in at just over 36 minutes.

One of the first things you can notice, especially if you’re a Bong aficionado, is that the percussion has been given a more prominent position on this record, which can certainly be heard on opener ‘The Golden Fields’ with an expressionistic, interpretive style that is very welcome, especially amongst the type of sonic output that Bong go for. This also allows for the bass and guitar to join forces and collide together against time and seemingly the cosmos.

Another great addition here is the vocal production and how massive it sounds. It helps to give a feeling of the sublime and something altogether ritualistic. The vocals on ‘The Golden Fields’ give Bong a new instrument to work into their music without detracting from their established sound, instead amplifying it massively – hopefully they continue that in the future.

‘Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius’, the album’s second track, is really just Bong doing what they do best – a mind-melting epic that erodes time all together! It’s also refreshing to hear some soloing going on within the droning at points.

This new LP from Bong really is a lesson in both drone and doom music, and it’s great to hear them still evolving their sound thirteen years in. Thought and Existence feels like a very inward, reflective piece of music compared to the grandiose and outwardly explorative nature of past releases; this is somehow different.

Thought And Existence is out now on Ritual Productions. Purchase here.

Words: Thomas Kirby

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Thou – The House Primordial

Given the recent uptick in surprise releases, you have to wonder if the metal scene isn’t actively trying to give us all a heart attack. The latest, Thou’s The House Primordial, may house enough music to be considered a full-length – at ten tracks and roughly 35 minutes – but it’s been described by the band as the first in a series of EPs building up to a new full-length entitled Magus.

The idea that this is the opening chapter in a line of releases gradually progressing towards some end goal seems apposite, given its experimental nature. Thou may be known for an individualistic strain of blackened sludge characterised by both a suppressive intensity and a melancholic ambience, but The House Primordial seems unique even amongst such a distinct discography, focusing as it does on a more unforgiving sound that rivals the stifling impact of Primitive Man.

With a sound so concerned with nonstop relentlessness, experimentation isn’t something that presents itself naturally, but it’s clear the band are weaving new textures into the mix. Though their past efforts have been based around lyrics of anarchist poetry and a latent grandiosity (see 2014’s Heathen), The House Primordial is largely instrumental and features an influx of drone and noise. Ambient textures have not left their sound here, merely shifted in function, bolstering the industrial assault more so than offering any hints of respite. It’ll be interesting to see whether the second of these EPs pushes the band’s sound further in this direction or shifts it once again into slightly new territory.

The House Primordial is out now on Robotic Empire. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

Astral Noize

Voices – Frightened

If you’d ever dreamt of the day that The Cure, Keelhaul, David Bowie, Primordial and The Sisters Of Mercy would team up to record a contemporary black metal record that has no members of those bands in it, dream no more. Rising from the ashes of sartorially astute Satanists Akercocke, Voices present a completely different beast on their third full-length, Frightened.

Let’s not pick sides; Akercocke were never this good, so further comparisons are arbitrary. Voices are their own band, and the tonal journey that really began on previous record London has blossomed into a beast both less controlled and more composed. What’s particularly striking about this is how much clean vocal and restraint is on display given the players involved; towards the end of the record, the harsh vocals seem unnecessary, a testament to the strength of the material.

There are many genuine highlights, but the shift from the shrieking desperation to bona-fide goth of ‘Dead Feelings’ and the genuinely grand ‘Footsteps’ stood out. The less extreme side of Voices is the really interesting bit; ‘IWSYA’ will no doubt impress many, as will the earnest, mature sensibilities on what is a truly magnificent record.

Frightened is out now on Candlelight/Spinefarm Records. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson

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Grave Lines – Fed Into The Nihilist Engine

Brighton/London miserabilists Grave Lines earned their standing as another solid gloomy doom outfit with debut album Welcome To Nothing in 2016, but with Fed Into The Nihilist Engine it’s clear that they’re making a break for an altogether more progressive, distinct sound.

Indeed, the album is a dynamic affair that takes the burly but brooding nature of sludge and weaves atmospheric and even gothic textures into the mix with real skill. No wonder, too, because whilst the band itself may be a relatively new endeavour, the members’ collective CV boasts names such as Throne, Sea Bastard, Dead Existence, War Wolf, Casual Nun, Landskap, Dysteria and The Death Letter.

Though it sometimes seems like every band with a hint of something progressive, heavy and slow earns a comparison to Neurosis, Grave Lines’ detuned left-hand path is certainly reminiscent of the Californian post-metal pioneers, only with a penchant for gothic folk (see ‘Shame/Retreat’). Fear not, though, as there’s enough songwriting prowess on display here to carve out a unique identity that needs not rely on mimicry, instead focusing on crafting visceral epics that both thrill in their heaviness and delight in their poignancy.

Fed Into The Nihilist Engine is out now on New Heavy Sounds. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

Astral Noize

LLNN – Deads

The synth is a troubling tool. Used correctly, it can transport the listener to realms of a future yet unknown, but in the wrong hands it can cheapen your band or destroy the impact of your music altogether. Luckily for Denmark’s LLNN, they understand how to use that most difficult of instruments, so here we are with Deads, their third record.

It’s a big leap from their first ultra-metallic outing Loss to here. With each successive record the Danes have advanced in both sound and craft, to the point that Deads has the feeling of an organism rather than a band. Barging into existence with ‘Despots’, this is an album rife with dynamic and understanding, LLNN grasping that pounding the listener into the floor has greater impact if they give you a chance to stand up. The vocals are a distillation of the furrowed brow of black metal through the aggression of cerebral hardcore, and while there’s bits of Swans, Cult Of Luna and Meshuggah floating around in here, putting the synths on the same level as the guitar gives the whole thing an eerie glow.

There’s a lack of humanity to Deads which is beyond appropriate. Like Cable being eaten by the techno-virus, LLNN are a dangerous entity, neither human nor machine. Top.

Deads is out now on Pelagic Records. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson

Astral Noize

Ommadon – End Times

In naming their new LP End Times, Scottish noisemongers Ommadon have skilfully (perhaps even inadvertently) linked their encompassing, corrosive strain of drone-doom to the current political turmoil that seems to be not so much edging as barrelling towards the end of civilisation as we know it. With that thought in your mind going into their latest full-length, the escapism such music often offers is out the window, adding a fresh new layer of stifling fear to the duo’s apocalyptic sound.

In riding the line between doom and drone, they hold a unique appeal. The nuclear riffs of the former genre explode out of the gloom, attempting to inject some semblance of structure into these lengthy compositions, but they always find their way back to the earthquake rumblings and radiative dissonance of the latter. The group’s formula is, by now, well established, but the band skilfully change their tune often enough to keep you captivated throughout End Times’ 43-minutes, always finding a way to add a fresh new layer of eeriness.

It’s hard to put your finger on what makes a release like this enjoyable to listen to. The band themselves claim to “rebel against the idea that music must be fun,” but this writer would argue that End Times is fun, not in an ‘Africa’ by Toto way, but in the same way that you kind of enjoyed watching that 18-rated horror film your mates dared you to watch when you were eleven, even if it meant sleeping with the light on that night.

End Times is out now via Dry Cough Records (UK), At War With False Noise (UK), DGRecords (US), and Medusa Crush Recordings (CAN). Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

Astral Noize

Boss Keloid – Melted On The Inch

In a music scene that values experimentation and innovation, the biggest compliment you can receive is that everything you write sounds like something only you could have written. That much is the case for all of Boss Keloid’s work thus far, but even as the UK doom scene’s most eccentric act, the Wigan collective’s third LP is as adventurous an album as they come.

It’s best not to try and second-guess Boss Keloid, but if anyone was to hazard a guess as to how Melted On The Inch would sound beforehand, it’s unlikely they would’ve seen the influx of prog coming, even with the prog and psych-laden passages of 2016’s Herb Your Enthusiasm. Crucially though, Boss Keloid haven’t abandoned their sludgy core, merely expanded it in scope and musicality. Typically doomy distortion remains, as do riffs that pack a hit like a sledgehammer, but grandiose (even anthemic) choruses, melodious passages and proggy tinkerings weave their way into the group’s already distinct sound.

Consistently proving musically progressive in all the right ways, Boss Keloid have once again crafted an album that will surprise and delight fans in equal measure. Fans of The Riff looking for yet more comparisons to Clutch or Mastodon may be left unsatisfied, but the constant twists and turns make Melted On The Inch a maze of an album with thrills around every corner.

This review features in Astral Noize Issue 3, alongside a wealth of others, available here. Melted On The Inch is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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Anna Von Hausswolff – Dead Magic

“Magic can never be dead” is Swedish multi-instrumentalist Anna von Hausswolff’s concise characterisation of her fourth album Dead Magic, a five-track, doom-ridden folk-pop opus. Inevitably, then, the singer resonates a supernatural standing on her fourth album, with her mythical imagination, haunting voice and otherworldly musical presence, all of which seldom deviate throughout the album’s progression.

The record positions itself in the crossover folds of a vast spectrum, embracing both the intimacy and etherealism of folk along with the menacing ambience of doom metal. As such, Dead Magic travels into immense sonic realms, with the 20th-century pipe organ, the touchstone of her music, as the driving force. There’s a sense of serenity, with the unearthly timbre of the organ, recorded in Copenhagen’s Marble Rococo Church, residing beneath ethereal vocals that are quick to transcend into eerie, evocative wails, conjuring up macabre images of human sacrifice before settling back into a delicate state of dark introspection surrounded by twinkling, almost hopeful strings.

Any sense of solemnity is quick to evanesce, though, as sporadic, almost Bon Iver-esque distorted electronics allow the folk-goes-metal songs to travel into haphazard realms, along with the thunderous atmospherics and a guttural, raspy-come-shrieky supernatural falsetto (think Kate Bush’s ‘Wow’) that create a sort of conjuration where spirituality runs free.

It is not the design of extreme pandemonium, though, but rather a collection of carefully arranged disarray; organised chaos. Presenting itself on a transcendental realm, Dead Magic is a 46-minute physical musical world of undisturbed gothic darkness.

Dead Magic is out now on City Slang. Purchase here.

Words: Paige Mathis

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Primitive Man – Steel Casket

Denver filthmongers Primitive Man are most famous for their particularly stifling brand of sludge, last heard on gargantuan 2017 opus Caustic, but the trio are also adept with noise. The band haven’t wielded this power since 2013’s P///M, but the two tracks that comprise Steel Casket aim to rectify that. Recorded around the same time (well, just after) Caustic, Steel Casket proves a wholly different beast, even if it’s just as uneasy a listening experience.

It’s testament to Primitive Man’s dedication to forward-thinking, noisy music that this release isn’t just a wall of noise. Actually, for a noise release, it’s a fairly exploratory affair, spanning ambient and drone textures as it ambles forward, buzzing like flies on a dead body, chittering like radio static or scratching like rusted tools on dry soil. Perhaps the most impressive thing a release like this can do is set a scene in your mind, and Steel Casket certainly has that ability, conjuring images of rundown factories with cracked windows, rusted machinery and bloodstained floors, or a vast farm on an inescapably hot day, the only hint of life in sight a collapsing scarecrow or a rotting carcass in an otherwise empty barn.

Steel Casket is out now on Tartarus/Crown And Throne Ltd. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr


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