Furious grindcore, dark witch doom, and the return of two Hang The Bastard members.
Skeletonwitch – Devouring Radiant Light
Typified by their resolute fusion of extreme metal styles and a dogged devotion to the road, after five albums of reliably enjoyable savagery we could hardly have blamed Skeletonwitch for sticking to a winning formula on their sixth. However, obviously buoyed by the gushing response to their The Apothic Gloom EP (released in 2016) and its subtle nods towards a new direction, the Ohio-based foursome are rampant with self-belief and ambition on Devouring Radiant Light.
Indeed, whilst the band retain that cast-iron core of blitzkrieg thrash (just check out ‘Canarium Eternal’ for an avalanche of scabrous, nimble-limbed aggro), this is a record carried by a ferocious creative wind in its sails, the Christ-slaughtering blastbeats (‘Temple Of The Sun’) and lavish melodies (‘Fen Of Shadows’) making it a possible bridge between the arcane oomph of underground extremity and the straightforward assault of the more mainstream end of the metallic spectrum.
This is not to mention that, perhaps due in part to a pristine production job by mixing-board demigod Kurt Ballou, Devouring Radiant Light underpins its sonic curiosity with a dense cloak of black metal smog, tossing yet another new flavour into its cauldron of dynamic ideas and making for what is an absorbing and triumphant return for Skeletonwitch, and without question their finest record to date.
Devouring Radiant Light is out now on Prosthetic Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
Maggot Heart – Dusk To Dusk
Following the sad dissolution of The Oath, and after leaving Grave Pleasures, Linnéa Olsson has returned with Maggot Heart, marking the first time she has fronted a project. Previous EP City Girls showcased a spiky, vicious brand of dark post-punk, and Dusk To Dusk continues in that style. It’s an album for after-hours, spent in underground clubs and dimly lit back-alleys, all sunglasses at night, leather jackets, and barely-concealed switch-blades. In terms of aesthetic and mood, it absolutely nails that blend of sexiness and danger that can make music like this so vital, with a strong sense of melody and some great hooks.
Sadly, over the course of an album the quality isn’t always quite there, and though no individual song could be described as bad, the album begins to sag a bit around the mid-way mark. It picks up towards the end though, with the one-two of the energetic, vicious ‘Blood Envy’ and slower, moodier ‘Pinned Like a Butterfly’ being a real highlight. It’s hard not to feel that the cleaner production has caused the music to lose some of its edge in comparison to City Girls, but this is still a fine album, that fans of Linnéa’s previous bands, or the likes of Dool, will surely enjoy.
Dusk To Dusk is out now on Teratology Sound & Vision. Purchase here.
Words: Stuart Wain
BlackLab – Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0
Giving yourself a unique classifier is one way to help your name stand out amongst the endless list of artists rather rudimentarily operating under the “doom” moniker, but it’s no guarantee of origination. Japanese duo BlackLab’s debut LP – a revamped version of their earlier demo – is an attempt to perfect their “dark witch doom”, a perfectly reasonable title for their particularly bewitching brand of multi-faceted occult doom, but that isn’t to say their sound doesn’t pay hefty homage to the bands who inspired it.
Neither do the band deny this, with direct references to Black Sabbath and Mudhoney, and the application of the sort of transfixing fuzz that Electric Wizard used to champion. Elsewhere, though, the band take great strides in branching out their sound, and there’s an endearing quality to the manic diversions the duo’s sound takes. Such experimentation makes the album hard to predict, with only heavy distortion and a general proclivity for riffs binding the tracks together, but not all hit their intended mark, occasionally coming off more like studio room improv then genuine attempts to innovate.
The flaws in the band’s sound are perhaps best exemplified on ‘Warm Death’, a rushed rehash of Black Sabbath’s eponymous self-titled track that manages to suck the ominous aura out the build-up. In their more frenetic moments, BlackLab boast the thrilling prowess of a more nocturnal Acid Bath, but a lack of subtlety means the odd moment comes across as hurried. At its heart, this is still a demo, and with more work, it could be a world-beater.
Under The Strawberry Moon 2.0 is out now on New Heavy Sounds. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Saint Karloff – All Heed The Black God
Classic, 70s-style rock and metal has seemed like a particularly stagnating subgenre over the past decade, with barely any of the contemporary bands going outside of the subgenre’s comfort zone. Saint Karloff, formed in 2015, are self-described to have “a modern twist on that 70s and 80s rockin’ vibe”. But will their debut album really live up to the challenge of rejuvenating the subgenre?
Sadly, not quite. The opening track, ‘Ghost Smoker’ begins with a haunting sound of a crow cawing, the atmospheric background music descends into fuzzy guitars. As the vocals of Mads Melvold join the ensemble, the influences of Black Sabbath appear on their sleeves vividly. Unfortunately, the rest of the record doesn’t seem to stray too far away from the confines of their influences, and what could be described as their own sound only appears fleetingly in some of the tracks, particularly in ‘Radioactive Tomb’. Structurally, the album feels disjointed due to the addition of the third song ‘Ganymedes’, an instrumental acoustic track being haphazardly added to the mix, not truly adding much to the album as a whole. As a debut, it’s a good start for the three-piece band, but to truly stand out, conventions should be broken, not obeyed without question.
All Heed The Black God is out now on Twin Earth Records. Purchase here.
Words: Charlie Hill (@Charlie_Theory)
Axis Of Despair – Contempt For Man
Axis Of Despair is a new band formed from the ashes of Coldworker and featuring Nasum drummer Anders Jakobson. It’s safe to say that the Swedish have a great track record when it comes to making grindcore, and this is no exception. Fans will find familiar elements to their past acts. Contempt For Man is just rager after rager, with tracks switching from grinding blasts to more hardcore and d-beat influenced sections with biting punky riffs, also reminiscent of mid-’00s Napalm Death. The flow of the album is magnificent, leaving no breathing room and just keeping that intensity going, with highlights throughout such as ‘Pawn Sacrifice’ and love letter ‘A Life Of Ceaseless Grind’.
When interviewed by Astral Noize last week, Jakobson himself described the band as “meat-and-potatoes grind”, meaning the band are self-aware of the elephant in the room. Contempt For Man doesn’t do a lot to differentiate the band from their past, and it certainly isn’t reinventing the wheel. Though this record may not stand out in the grander picture of grindcore, it is still passionately executed and enjoyable from start to finish. So fuck it… give it a listen and smash shit up!
Contempt For Man is out now on Southern Lord Records. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Neckbeard Deathcamp – White Nationalism Is For Basement Dwelling Losers
Well, this certainly is a weird one. Emerging on Bandcamp last week, the anti-Nazi, white nationalist-baiting debut from Neckbeard Deathcamp has conjured up a hefty dose of discussion on these here interwebs, so much so that it has risen to the tippy-top of Bandcamp’s best-selling albums. Essentially, if you were to distil left-wing meme pages into a black metal album, this would be the result – just look at the track titles.
Self-described as “fedora-crushing militant black metal” and created by a trio operating under the names Kriegmeister Hatestorm (vocals, piano, noise, production), Superkommando Uberweinsnitchel (guitars, bass) and Hailz Komradez (drums), the band’s sound is carnal, guttural black metal with a raw energy and disgusting sludgy undertones. It may be musical trolling, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised by just how good the music that drives it is.
What Neckbeard Deathcamp have done here is genius. Black metal has long used its themes of paganism and nihilism as camouflage for more sinister ideologies, but the band have taken the genre and crafted one big “fuck you” to the alt-right, from the mocking imagery on the cover to the mimicking lyrics. It’s hysterical with an important message, and the music behind it also packs one hell of a gut-punch.
White Nationalism Is For Basement Dwelling Losers is out now. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Finnr’s Cane – Elegy
Elegy, the third full-length release from Canada’s Finnr’s Cane, is an atmospheric work characterised by its rich emotive tone and structure. Drawing from black, gothic, doom and symphonic metal, each piece gives the impression of being drawn up and pulled down by its powerful pitch and swell. The title track, for instance, introduces sombre, heavy-footed drums accompanied by intermingling guitar melodies that give off a pang of loss. There’s then an interesting interlude where the drums break into a light, brisk waltz beat and the guitar loses its overwhelming presence, playing a cautious melody; then the track moves into the crescendo of doom-like riffs, heavy drum hits and elusive vocals.
Apart from the structure, the work of the vocals and guitar are the core to the emotive strength of this album. The use of a cello adds a symphonic depth to the diverse melodic work provided by the guitar. The vocals are equally varied, moving from raspy black metal eruptions to more solemn clean tones, but serve a far more ephemeral role that adds a subtle mystique to the work. They’re not always present, but when they are, they just escape the dense cello and guitar. Elegy is a strong work with emotional nuance and diversity, it’s definitely worth hearing in its entirety.
Elegy is out now on Prophecy Productions. Purchase here.
Words: Omur Sowar
URNE – The Mountain Of Gold
As a band forged from the remains of London riff-mongers Hang The Bastard, it’s only fitting that URNE’s debut EP kicks off with a down-tuned stomp. But, by the time the melodious chorus for opener ‘Dust Atlas’ comes around, it’s clear that URNE are no HTB 2.0. Frontman Joe Nally and guitarist Angus Neyra (here joined by drummer Richard Wiltshire) may have retained their penchant for both groove and sludge, but clearly also influenced by their work with Chapters, URNE are reaching for a more varied affair that’s intermittently reminiscent of Scotland’s Dvne.
It’s heavy, of course, but it’s much less stifling than you may first expect. Punchy guitars remain key, but the band aren’t afraid to traverse fresh terrain, occasionally lurching forward to reach thrashier tempos and, on more than one occasion, happily delving into the sort of catchy prog textures that Mastodon now champion.
Indeed, The Mountain Of Gold is ultimately hard to classify, and it has to be said that it’s varied elements make for a choppy first listen. Nevertheless, the ambition is here, and it’s easy to see how such a style might suit the full-length format. A surprising return, but a very much welcome one.
The Mountain Of Gold is out now via self-release. Look out for it on streaming sites.
Words: George Parr