Reviews Round-Up 010: Grunge Legends, Black Metal Electronica and Swamp Metal

Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

In the modern music scene, it’s occasionally overlooked that music genres were once as much about location as they were sound, and grunge perhaps exemplifies this better than any. Though loosely connected by a fondness for heavy guitars, the main thing most of the grunge acts of the ’90s had in common was Seattle. Perhaps due to this difference in sounds, some still debate Alice In Chains‘ hand in pioneering the scene, but the city’s influence nevertheless rings true over their sixth album. Rainier Fog is the first Alice In Chains album in twenty years to be recorded in the city, and it’s a fitting tribute to a scene that has shared in a considerable number of tragedies over the years.

Perhaps more than any of the bigger grunge acts, Alice In Chains are beloved by the metal scene, and if their impact on grunge is indeed smaller than one would expect, their influence over modern heavy metal, particularly amongst doom and sludge acts, is not to be scoffed at.

It’s easy to see why. Though they continue to put their knack for world-beating choruses and ginormous dual-vocal harmonies to good use, their penchant for droning riffs and meaty grooves also continues to ring true. On Rainier Fog, this all persists as expected, but musically the album proves to be a much more important instalment in the band’s catalogue than you’d first expect. Their third effort after reforming with new singer Willian DuVall at the head following Layne Staley’s passing, the band have already won over (most of) the sceptics that were clinging on to the band’s older work, now they must prove that they can do more than simply emulate their classics.

Rainier Fog does this superbly, by melding the two sides of the band’s sound into a glorious juxtaposition of both the doomy and the soothing. Conjuring the spirit of the band’s heavier early numbers as well as the more sedate nature of their acoustic EPs, the album is the first to unite these textures so frequently and so effectively. Whilst it could feasibly be said that some of the band’s most commercial work to date is offered up here, you’d be remiss to say so without also paying heed to the fuck-off riffs and doomy guitar tone that line proceedings – where the opening riff of ‘Drone’ would not be out of place on Black Sabbath’s 13, ‘Maybe’ is closer to radio rock semi-balladry.

Indeed, Rainier Fog is perhaps best characterised by the sheer consistency of its songwriting – you won’t find any filler here. ‘So Far Under’ most directly taps into the bare-faced vitriol of Facelift-era AiC, whilst ‘Maybe’ is relentlessly addictive with its effervescent acoustic guitar and sing-along chorus. Sonic compatriot ‘Fly’ is similarly accessible, begging to be turned up loud at summer barbeques, whilst closer ‘All I Am’ is perhaps the most ambitious number in an album lined with them. Calm to an almost chilling degree, it’s understated by a heartfelt melancholy so poignant that it’s hard not to think of the friends and peers the band have lost along the way.

Rainier Fog isn’t the departure that precisely no one was expecting, but it does make a sound that’s been established for almost three decades sound refreshing, and once again proves that dismissing the band’s post-Layne Staley material out of hand means missing out on a ton of quality music. There are now as many DuVall Alice In Chains studio albums as there were Staley ones, and whilst it’ll always be hard to live up to the likes of Dirt, Rainier Fog comes pretty damn close.

Rainier Fog is out now on BMG. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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Manes Slow Motion Death Sequence

Arguably, the black metal contained in Slow Motion Death Sequence is to Manes’ sound what the jazz was to A Tribe Called Quest’s – there to provide a tonal backdrop to something far more than the sum of its influences. The release is rooted in electro-pop, but its biggest musical debt is owed to the expansive black metal-cum-electronica based soundscapes of cult ‘90s experimentalists In The Woods, most notably through the rhythmic collages of bleeps and beats (in fact, at times, the “electro” element of the group’s sound is very much justified) which run through the release’s textures.
On the surface, comparisons to Ulver’s recent synth-poppy direction may seem relevant, but upon closer inspection, these comparisons wither. Ulver’s dalliances into electro-pop have been better layered perhaps, and instilled with a keener sense of songwriting, but they’re also far cheerier. Slow Motion Death Sequence may seem more upbeat, but that’s only due to it’s higher fidelity of production – at its heart, the record’s melancholic riffing and constant address of human mortality (recordings pertaining to assisted suicide are utilised throughout) leave it as pitch black as Manes’ earliest bursts of symphonic black metal brilliance, recalling Katatonia’s Brave Murder Day in its atmospheric embrace of darkness, borne along by top-tier songwriting chops.
At a time when the black metal scene is fighting with itself over the regressive tendencies of some of its aged veterans, other veterans of the genre are going beyond its sometimes restrictive notions of self. On Slow Motion Death Sequence, Manes have shown us that you don’t need to be evil or utilise shitty production to be dark, rather utilising their black metal heritage in a far more nuanced fashion to create black metal that is as defiantly innovative as it is depressive.

Slow Motion Death Sequence is out now on Debemur Morti Productions. Purchase here.

Words: Rich Lowe

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Mantar – The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze

As transcendent and ethereal as some metal can now be, as much as production has advanced to bring us otherworldly sounds, sometimes you just want to put on something primal as fuck and lose your mind. This is what the German two-piece Mantar deliver – more primal aggression than a woolly mammoth on testosterone. If you seek the adrenaline rush of the riff from Slayer’s ‘Hell Awaits’ kicking in but with a modern sheen then look no further than Mantar’s third record, The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze.

There’s a really popular interview with Fenriz of Darkthrone where he plays a song called ‘Rock & Roll Gas Station’ by Adrenalin O.D. and loses his shit exclaiming “that’s fucking primitive!” – that is what TMAOSA sounds like. Mantar have sharpened their production since their last record, Erinç Sakarya’s drums now rumble out the speakers a tad more and Hanno Klänhard’s guitars have been sharpened so the riffs cut right through those thick drum beats. The already minimalist songwriting has had its fat trimmed even closer to the bone. Tracks like ‘Age Of The Absurd’, ‘Seek And Forgive’, ‘Teeth Of The Sea’ and morbid closer ‘The Funeral’ are metal boiled down to its fundamentals – good riff, good drums, and Hanno barking like an absolute madman. In an age where the genre is advancing at a rapid pace, this record offers a simplistic and primal ecstasy.

The Modern Art Of Setting Ablaze is out now on Nuclear Blast. Purchase here.

Words: Jack Richard King

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Jesus Piece – Only Self

Jesus Piece have been plugging away in the underground since their formation in 2015, but with Only Self, they mark their first full-length effort. Suitably, it’s the sort of step-up in sophistication a band needs to make on their first album, developing on the white-hot intensity of their demo, EPs and split with Malice At The Palace (we need more rhyming band names in metal). That’s not to say this is a world-beater, though, and critics will no doubt be eager to point out that despite the ferocity of the tracks themselves, they’re often a tad too familiar – almost comfortingly so. The scathing vocals are on-point, the riffs are abrasive and frantic and the breakdowns drop like a horse kicking you in the gut, but that’s nothing you haven’t heard before.

The band are at their most interesting when they deploy atmospheric samples and more peculiar shifts in pace, at times they even sprinkle Code Orange-esque pauses into the mix; a bold move that shows the band’s willingness to take risks. That willingness pops up most noticeably on the final two tracks, which take on a darker and more ambient tone, hinting at something entirely more menacing. Indeed, Only Self is the sound of a confident young band who promise great things.

Only Self is out now on Southern Lord. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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Black Tusk TCBT

Black Tusk are graduates of the Motörhead School of Philosophy; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but it better rock. Still self-described as “swamp metal” thirteen years in, this translates as sludge metal’s much faster cousin. They look and sound like bikers and for their sixth album TCBT they’ve really opened up the throttle. Corey Barhorst has replaced the late, great Jon Athon on bass, marking his first outing for Black Tusk with a permanently dirty tone, and despite the considered, philosophical tone of opener ‘A Perfect Vision Of Absolutely Nothing’, they’ve only gotten faster. Gone are the grooves, instead using shifts in layers to make it feel that it’s always possible to go faster.
Guitarist Andrew Fidler’s high-pitched yell and drummer James May’s gruff, low roars reciprocate this perpetual sense of acceleration, trading and occasionally combining for lines. In a statement of intent, the artwork has changed from the past choices of florid detail to a flight case stencil surrounding a lightning bolt. TCBT stands for “Taking Care of Black Tusk” but they just as easily could have dropped that second T and called it TCB – Taking Care of Business.

TCBT is out now on Season of Mist. Purchase here.

Words: Gregory Brooks

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Innumerable Forms – Punishment In Flesh

Not content with flying the flag for thrash sensations Power Trip, Magic Circle’s Sabbath-saluting turbo-blues and the Neanderthal death metal of Mammoth Grinder, it seems that multi-instrumental comrades Justin DeTore and Chris Ulsh are determined to corner the market in sonic extremity. It is still of some surprise therefore that the slo-mo enormity of Innumerable Forms is a timely tribute to the underappreciated and subtly important Finnish death metal scene of the early ’90s. It’s less surprising that the band combine the serious underground pedigree in their ranks to grotesque and devastating effect.

The guitar tone here is worth the price of admission alone, a thunderous marriage of old-school grind and modern crunch conjuring the sort of gruesome heaviness that would see Tom G. Warrior fleeing in panic. A death metal record at heart, Punishment In Flesh‘s subsonic filth is briefly imposed by pacier cuts such as ‘Stress Starvation’, which inject a welcome nitro-boost of blast-driven brutality. However, it is when we plunge back down to a snail’s pace that the quintet’s ensemble power is brought into sharp focus, the title-track and a languorous ‘Re-Contaminated’ as slow, spiteful and terrifying as anything released this year. Although adding little to the ever-growing lexicon of death-doom, Punishment In Flesh comes across like a long-lost classic from the early ’90s, and is a joyous collection of virulent (anti) hymns.

Punishment In Flesh is out now on Profound Lore. Purchase here.

Words: Tony Bliss

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The Eternal – Waiting For The Endless Dawn

With their sixth album Waiting for the Endless Dawn, Australia’s The Eternal have produced a beautifully rich, gothic monster of an album which manages to sound timeless, expansive and strangely concise despite its colossal length.
Bravely opening with the near 20-minute ‘The Wound’, The Eternal pull us gently into the darkness, with subtle strings building and drawing the listener further in. It’s just after the seven-minute mark, following a gorgeous guitar solo, that singer Mark Kelson comes crooning in and the song begins in earnest, building to become something truly epic. Second track ‘Rise From The Agony’ is even more impressive, a gloriously bittersweet slice of melancholic doom with an absolutely gorgeous repeated melody that you’ll be humming for days, not to mention being home to a truly stunning guitar solo. ‘In The Lilac Dusk’ is another standout track, adorned with lush string arrangements, which bolster singer Mark Kelson’s death growl to stirring effect, and containing even more impressive lead guitar work.
The whole album is rich in atmosphere and memorable melodies, recalling at various stages bands as diverse as My Dying Bride, Paradise Lost and even Marillion at their proggiest. At 75 minutes the album may feel overlong to some, yet it’s hard to see where any fat could be trimmed. The songs never meander or outstay their welcome and the grand scale of the album only serves to make the songs sound even more affecting.

Waiting For The Endless Dawn is out now on Inverse Records. Purchase here.

Words: Adam Pegg

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Leeched – You Took The Sun When You Left

Leeched have hit the ground running, only forming a year and a half ago and already releasing their debut full-length through Prosthetic Records. Their first EP garnered many comparisons to Nails, but the Mancunian trio have pushed so much further with this new record. Not only have Leeched added noise, sludge and atmospheric sections to their repertoire (eerie interlude ‘Born In Sand’ is a great touch), but they’ve thought much more about expanding the dynamics and using the space of a full-length record to explore more ideas.

This has resulted in an album that flows remarkably well. Rather than kicking straight into mayhem, opener ‘Cripple The Herd’ stomps around a bit before unleashing the fury, with second track ‘The Rope’ really smashing your face in. ‘A Mouthful Of Dirt’ is a true highlight, with a discordant guitar lead that will get stuck in your head. Sure there are still plenty of blistering grind moments, with ‘Raised By Lead’ tearing your face off from the first millisecond, but as a full album experience, Leeched offer you much more than just the fundamentals of grindcore. This album is about attention to detail and will have you reaching back for more.

You Took The Sun When You Left is out now on Prosthetic Records. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French

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Rebel Wizard – Voluptuous Worship Of Rapture And Response

Though Bob Nekrasov – primarily through his one-man black metal project Nekrasov – is an open supporter of second-wave black metal-inspired lo-fi production, his work with Rebel Wizard takes black metal into much more accessible realms than one might expect, primarily through the application of NWOBHM-inspired (aka discernible) riffs and melodies. The result is a sound that gives you both your menacing, isolationist one-man black metal fix as well as your fix of traditional riffs and soaring solos.

There’s a light-hearted aura to the proceedings that feels apposite on an album that will happily spring from expressive Iron Maiden leads to furious screeches and abrasive blastbeats, and it’s never not funny to hear the emotive tones that kick off track four before realising it’s entitled ‘Drunk On The Wizdom Of Unicorn Semen’. More than anything, it’s refreshing to hear an artist draw from established metal approaches to create something original. Instead of repeating those old tropes and techniques, Nekrasov combines two genres that most would maintain have no business being together, and does so to glorious effect. Whether the trad. metal and black metal elements run in tandem or successively, it works, and you’re unlikely to find a black metal album this fun anywhere else.

Voluptuous Worship Of Rapture And Response is out now. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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Foscor Les Irreals Versions

Ambient and gentle aren’t words you would commonly associate with a band best known for their black metal output, but on their most recent release, Les Irreals Versions, Catalan’s Foscor have delivered something that strays far from their original sound, with six imaginative reworkings of previously released album tracks.
Scaling down the heavily distorted guitars, utilising clean vocals and a wider range of instruments than your standard band setup, Foscor have cleverly revealed hidden depths to their sound and produced a unique album in their catalogue.
The focus here is creating a mood rather than sheer heaviness. Indeed, the metal touches here are subtle at best and the prevailing atmosphere is one of restraint. A melancholic cello lends a mournful tone to ‘Espectres El Cau’, whilst the vocals are blended into the instrumentation rather than being at the forefront. It’s delicate touches like this that stand out, such as the sombre piano refrain toward the end of the song, reminiscent of A Perfect Circle at their most subdued. ‘L.amor.T’ is almost unrecognisable from the original version here too, sounding particularly sparse in some parts with sinister piano stabs and menacing percussion before the song slowly draws out, bringing the album to an uplifting and intense ending.
By stripping back the heaviness and aggression, Foscor have taken an innovative step with this album, one that this writer can’t help but feel would be interesting to hear other bands experiment with.

Les Irreals Versions is out now on Season of Mist. Purchase here.

Words: Adam Pegg

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Born To Murder The World – The Infinite Mirror Of Millennial Narcissism

Let’s face it – it’s not often that a collaboration between well-respected musicians lives up to the weight of expectation. Yet The Infinite Mirror of Millennial Narcissism does just that. Born to Murder the World, featuring Mick Kenny (Anaal Nathrakh) and Shane Embury (Napalm Death, Brujeria, Lock Up, a billion other bands), and with the wonderfully named Drunk (Fukpig, Mistress) on vocals, have unleashed one absolute beast. The fifteen-minute long record takes the best elements of later-day Napalm Death’s fury and Anaal Nathrakh’s industrial black metal onslaught, and combines them to devastating effect.
There is absolutely nothing subtle or pretty about The Infinite Mirror. Songs dart in and out in a frenzy of relentless drums, hyperspeed riffs, and desperate vocals with such intensity that it could quickly become overwhelming. Yet the experience of those involved comes through, with there being short moments of melody that provide contrast and give the listener something to latch on to. For an album that’s so brutally punishing there’s a large number of hooks to be found in the songs, and they have an ebb and flow that makes them seem all the more intense. The Infinite Mirror is a real masterclass in extremity; but, given those involved, did we really expect anything less?

The Infinite Mirror Of Millennial Narcissim is out now on Extrinsic Recordings. Purchase here.

Words: Stuart Wain

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Tuscoma – Arkhitecturenominus

Arkitecturenominus, the debut from New Zealand duo Tuscoma, is a work of formidable velocity and an esoteric black metal miasma, filled with blistering abrupt riffs and drum-work, haunted rasping vocals and a penchant for abrasive feedback and static. Certain tracks deploy guitar-work that’s reminiscent of punk inverted into morose black metal melodies, as on the title-track and ‘Boxlife’. This doesn’t compromise the venomous aesthetic in the slightest, it’s actually testament to the album’s melodic diversity – as a result, it manages to avoid the stale tropes of traditional black metal.

Tracks like ‘Laser Lines’ display Tuscoma’s ability to execute varying paces, breaking up a piece of high-paced, tempered black metal, with a dirgy, weighted breakdown more in line with bands like Meshuggah. Arkitecturenominus maintains vicious black metal features, using high-pitched shrieks, blast-beats and chord progressions associated with the genre, but it avoids feeling bland by deploying blackened punk riffs, slowing the pace with interesting breakdowns that tactfully use feedback to punctuate the ferocity of the work. Tuscoma have created a fresh, explicit and engaging work of black metal.

Arkhitecturenominus is out now on Antena Krzyku Records. Purchase here.

Words: Omur Sowar

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