Reviews Round-Up 006: The Most Creative Debut of the Year?

Vein – Errorzone

Whilst a host of cult bands ushered in a golden age of boundary-pushing hardcore at the turn of the 21st Century, the intervening years had little of the genre-moulding impact that the likes of Refused, Converge, Botch or The Dillinger Escape Plan could claim. Of late, however, a ludicrously exciting new breed has come to redefine the world of heavy music with an utter disregard for the sonic routine and a big “fuck you” to the status quo. Vein are the latest to dismantle the rule book to spectacular effect.

Even with a clutch of EPs and splits providing a mouth-watering snapshot of their potential, Errorzone is startling. Standing on a bedrock of scattershot dynamics and mutant accessibility, it’s a diverse set that veers from expected bursts of dizzying speed and violence to the drum ‘n’ bass-meets-grindcore mash-up of ‘Virus://Vibrance’ and the Roots-era Sepultura stomp of ‘Rebirth Protocol’, which brings a tangible (whisper it) nu-metal twist to an otherwise remorseless onslaught.

Indeed, the sheer amount of ideas catapulted our way and the record’s frequently bewildering contents make for perhaps the most densely creative debut of the year. The Massachusetts five-piece unleash a blitzkrieg whilst adopting a breathless approach which sounds something akin to marauding cyborgs hell-bent on mass annihilation. This nightmarish joyride flings us headfirst into a world of disfigured electronic glitches (‘Old Data In A Dead Machine’), deft flashes of melody (‘Doomtech’) and exhilarating percussive twists and turns (‘Broken Glass Complexion’), all colliding in a shower of hammering, dissonant grooves, broken teeth and flailing limbs.

Although many will detect various different shades of influence across its thirty-minute runtime, Errorzone remains a ferociously original piece of work, consistently scaling new and electrifying peaks of subversive hardcore and displaying all the raw talent and nerve of genuine scene leaders.

Errorzone is out now on Closed Casket Activities. Purchase here.

Words: Tony Bliss

Astral Noize

Khemmis – Desolation

Khemmis have been moving closer towards the doom metal big-leagues with each release, and now with third album Desolation, they’re practically kicking the door in, demanding their place among the big names of the genre. An increased sense of melody is on display throughout the album, owing as much to classic heavy metal as it does to Candlemass. There’s a weight to the music that is at once heavy and accessible, with a clean, glossy production lending the album genuine mainstream appeal, despite its heavy nature and occasional harsh vocals.

Not that Desolation is likely to be bothering daytime radio anytime soon. Five of the six songs are over six minutes in length, with only ‘Isolation’ being close to a single in terms of structure and duration. Even so, Desolation is an album full of hooks that will stay in your head for days, and though its sheen may be a bit too clean for some, this is the sound of a band who feel that their time has come, and few would bet against them. Desolation is an album that is easy to sink into. Highly addictive and massively enjoyable.

Desolation is out now on 20 Buck Spin. Purchase here.

Words: Stuart Wain

Astral Noize

Amarok – Devoured

Californian sludgy doom outfit Amarok have been slowly testing the waters since their 2009 formation with a slew of splits, finally emerging with a debut full-length. The ambition has increased with this whopping 70-minute album containing just four epic songs. Amarok have an enormous sound, with plenty of fuzz and amp feedback, at times leaning towards the disgusting and colossal magnitude of Primitive Man. But Amarok still have a special place for melody, with shimmering, harmonised guitars that nod to the more traditional side of doom (think Candlemass and Cathedral).

In terms of sound and sonics, Amarok are onto a winning formula. The harsh, demonic screams are always invigorating and all these songs are crushingly heavy. However, the two 20+ minute opening tracks suffer from their runtime a little bit. By just throwing in a few more ideas or an extra section or two, these tracks would feel less padded out. It’s actually the final two songs (both just over ten minutes) which are the most compelling, consolidating the ideas better and developing more naturally. The closing title track, in particular, is a real winner. Amarok have delivered an ambitious and brutal debut showing much future potential.

Devoured is out now on Translation Loss Records. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French

Astral Noize

Gaerea – Unsettling Whispers

Seeing a record touted as the “black metal album of the year” unsurprisingly makes you want it to kill while hoping it isn’t faint praise. A tough rope to walk, but child’s play if you’re Portugal’s Gaerea. Coming off the back of their self-titled 2016 debut, Unsettling Whispers is as grand a step up as one could hope to make.

Opening with ‘Svn’, it’s not immediately apparent just how meaty a record this is going to be. By the close of this track and the beginning of ‘Absent’, the unusual nature of this album makes itself apparent. There’s a curiously laconic quality coursing through the entirety of Unsettling Whispers; an oddly slow, rounded feeling to such aggressive music. The guitars carry the baleful melodies like Jacob Marley’s chains, and the dynamic, desperate vocals make this record feel like it’s suspended in time.

While ‘BM record of the year’ is a lofty claim, this is certainly an impressive piece. The final furlong of the punishing ‘Lifeless Immortality’, utterly raging ‘Cycle Of Decay’ and the none-more-aptly-titled ‘Catharsis’ mark this out as an essential release for the kvlt-minded and post-enthusiast alike. Regal and strangely calming, this is black metal in its elevated form.

Unsettling Whispers is out now on Transcending Obscurity Records. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson

Astral Noize

Aseethe/Snow Burial – Split

Splits are seemingly becoming more and more frequent in the metal scene, and they’re a good opportunity for a band to pick their most heavy-hitting tracks whilst leaving out any filler. Here, you get a chance to hear two bands wanting to make as big an impact as possible.

First part of this split is ‘Wrong’ by Iowa doom outfit Aseethe and it surges into life without much of an intro, chugging along with a dark, groovy sound that doesn’t relent. What Aseethe do well is utilise their dual vocals; halfway through the track the vocalist changes approach and almost transforms the song into a different track entirely. Nothing too boundary pushing here, but if unhinged no-frills doom is what you’re looking for then you came to the right place!

Chicago, Illinois post-rockers Snow Burial come through with the second track on the split, ‘Sever the Bloodline’, which is the more intense and interesting track of the two. It drops in and out of melodious and frantic sections, making use of samples and taking you on a journey through their sound. If you’re unfamiliar with Snow Burial, you get an idea of what their music is all about from just this one track.

Split is out now on Hand of Death Records. Purchase here.

Words: Thomas Kirby

Astral Noize

Anicon – Entropy Mantra

Black metal isn’t a genre that requires Pat Methenian precision, but it’s comforting when everyone in the band agrees on one way to play the material. Commencing with the reasonable ‘Feeding Hand’, Anicon’s second album gets underway nicely until, 40 seconds in, the band decide they’re going to publicly argue about the right tempo for the song.

‘Wither And Waste’ details this confounding perfectly, with a surfeit of ideas defiantly avoiding being anchored into a truly robust performance. More irritating is ‘Names Written In Tar’, which is bulldozingly ordinary, flimsy and stiff, set into sharp relief by the fact that ‘Tarnish On The Emblems Of Ardor’ is performed with taut, potent confidence. There’s an elegance to this song, which carries itself with some grandeur; giving the melody a place makes their material much stronger, and even the vocals sound more powerful.

‘Blood From A Road’ shows a pleasingly off quality, marking Anicon out from their peers, showing that they’re going somewhere intriguing. Unfortunately, two crackers don’t make up for the remaining tracks of rambling weakness. Anicon have plenty of shrieking BM behind them; Entropy Mantra demonstrates that they’re leaving that behind, but aren’t quite ready to let go.

Entropy Mantra is out now on Vendetta Records. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson

Astral Noize

Grimmness – End Times

Much has been made of the revitalised strength of UK punk in recent years and with a particularly violent post-apocalyptic Mad Max-esque future looking like a distinct possibility, UK punk getting apocalyptically apathetic has been long overdue.

Recorded over the process of several years and based around the apocalyptic visions of the post-Scientological cult of The Process Church, End Times combines the deconstructive noisy, black metal-influenced crust format of Grimness‘ labelmate and collaborator Kastchei, but runs in an entirely different sonic direction. If one were to pigeonhole the record’s style, End Times’ approximate sound is that of Amebix attempting shoegaze-infused black metal after sniffing a few too many solvents – grimly rasped vocals and apocalyptic arpeggios ringing out amidst smoggy layers of guitar noise.

There are no gang chants or anger-inducing rhythms here, nor is there biting social commentary. End Times conjures an anaemic image of the apocalypse through it’s dreary haze of downtrodden noise – reminiscent of the grim, burned-out images of the final chapter of cult anti-nuclear war film Threads.

Grimmness is out now via The Dropa Collective. Purchase here.

Words: Rich Lowe

Astral Noize

Death Grips – Year Of The Snitch

Death Grips follow their 2017 EP release of Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) with one of the most eclectic and abrasive works you will hear this year. Year of the Snitch is 37 minutes of hard, unsettling, challenging and hypnotic sonic-conflict.

Stylistically, Death Grips continue their uniquely undefinable legacy. Incorporating elements from aggressive techno, hardcore, nu-metal, trap-style and hip-hop, each track changes dramatically through its own course. It sounds jarring, but the tempo of the album gives it a relentless momentum that is curiously entrancing. MC Ride’s aggressive lo-fi vocals see him go from crust punk barks (‘Black Paint’) into a trap-style bounce (‘Hahaha’, ‘Streaky’); his versatility is impressive and his vocals are often the most “definable” aspect of any given song despite a shroud of murky, dehumanising reverb.

Year of the Snitch is not an easy album to listen to, its structure (if any) has the speed and aggression of a grindcore album, its content is incredibly diverse and untypical. However, it manages to maintain a strong, sharp and uncomfortable aesthetic that gives the album its cohesiveness, without diluting their musical style or giving the listener a moment to breathe. Definitely worth a listen.

Year Of The Snitch is out now on Third Worlds and Harvest Records. Purchase here.

Words: Omur Sowar

Astral Noize

Vanhelga – Fredagsmys

Atmospheric black metal is a pretty forgiving genre. Second only to post-BM in its general acceptance of slightly more positive tonality and its position as a gateway into the harsher realms of corpse paint and screaming, the genre has wrought some bands like Alcest and Deafheaven which have divided opinion. Swedish shriekers Vanhelga come from a background that’s built around one man’s vision, and on Fredagsmys the listener gets an insight into that mad world.

Opening with ‘Somnparalys’, the record sets its BM stall out pretty firmly, with a drizzle of NWOBHM towards the end. This is fine, but as the album presses on it starts to feel like the contents of a rucksack – there’s a lot in here, and some of it appears to have been thrown in. There’s off-key whistling on ‘Psykotisk Sjanvilsikt’ and some genuinely fumbled clean vocals, ‘Ensam Mot Alla’ sounds more like the Pixies or Sigur Ros than anything else, and ‘Tva Blir Ett’ is a thick, spreadable cheese.

This isn’t a bad record per se, but it seems to genuinely not know what it is. Production aside, a lot of the songs sound like they’re from different bands, and although there’s some pleasing material in the waltzing ‘Varde Morker’ and the surreal synth-ey power metal of ‘Forpassad Till Misar’, Vanhelga remain a curio. Odd.

Fredagsmys is out now on Osmose Productions. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson


Liked it? Take a second to support Astral Noize on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!