Reviews Round-Up 011: Sadistic Smiles, Desolation, and the Return of Vodun

KEN Mode Loved

It’s crazy to think that Canadian noisy hardcore outfit KEN Mode have been at it for nearly 20 years now, and yet most UK audiences have only really been aware of them in the past five, after they signed with Season Of Mist. What is so refreshing and reliable about KEN Mode is how direct their music is. Loved strives for darker territory than ever before, but the band still deliver a blunt force with their music.

Noisy tremolo guitars are splattered all over the album and never let up, as Jesse Matthewson’s raging screams are constantly piercing and furious. Throughout the entire album, the raging sonic chaos rarely lets up and that is very much to be admired. The addition of noirish saxophones and spoken word on ‘This Is A Love Test’ breaks from the chaos, but still builds brilliantly into an angry climax. This motif is reprised in the awesome climax ‘No Gentle Art’, which sends the album off in the most abrasive way possible, with Matthewson screaming his lungs out.

Loved will put a sadistic smile on your face. KEN Mode’s dedication to rickety, jagged guitars, crunchy bass tones and choppy post-punk-inspired drums never feels old or tired.

Loved is out now on Season Of Mist. Purchase here.

Words: Chris “Frenchie” French

Astral Noize

Vodun – Ascend

Emerging two years ago with one of the most refreshing albums the heavy music scene had seen this decade (and an original gimmick to boot), Vodun have a lot to prove on their second release. Sophomore releases can be a tricky proposition, and founding members Chantal Brown (“Oya”) and Zel Kaute (“Ogoun”) have been unsuccessful in reaching a second album with previous efforts. Thankfully, then, their second LP with Vodun sees the trio refine their sound competently enough to ascend (ayyyy) to the next level.

More consistently fun and accessible than 2016’s Possession, with a stampede of mammoth choruses and a veritable smorgasbord of earth-shaking grooves, but also heavier with stomping riffs and the odd smattering of thrashy riffs courtesy of new guitarist Linz Hamilton (“The Marassa”), Ascend is minute-for-minute more entertaining than its predecessor, but it’s also more interesting, making better use of the West African Vodun religion from which the band take inspiration. There’s a notable increase in the number of afrobeat rhythms and drum patterns, but the album also uses the religion’s historical teaching to address modern society, from themes of equality to the instability palpable in contemporary politics. Just as well – looking to the past can often tell us about the future.

Ascend is out now on New Heavy Sounds. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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Allfather – And All Will Be Desolation

There’s a lot to be angry about in the UK’s current political landscape and Allfather are here to provide a timely and aggressive response. After some beautifully subdued and atmospheric picking, storming opener and first single ‘Black Triangle’ grabs the listener by the scruff of their neck with powerful, chunky riffs and commanding, impassioned vocals. The lyrics make references to the treatment of disabled people by the Nazis in the lead up to World War II – “they stood alone, now they come for you”. The song makes for a powerful warning: oppose Fascism or you could be next.
Musically, this is the most expansive Allfather have sounded to date. From the chugging riffs and blistering lead work of ‘Lord Betrayer’ to the thrashy tones and death metal screams of ‘Citadels’, Allfather combine a plethora of influences to stunning effect. Closer ‘Lampedusa’ is something else entirety, a ten-minute-plus sludge epic that begins with dark, acoustic fingerpicking before exploding into a bass-heavy monolithic slice of cinematic heaviness filled with some beautifully melodic lead work and blood-curdling screams from vocalist Tom Ballard. Allfather have melded their influences to produce not only one of the best albums of the year, but also one of the most important. This is what forward-thinking music sounds like.

And All Will Be Desolation is out now. Purchase here.

Words: Adam Pegg

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Gnaw Their Tongues & CrowhurstBurning Ad Infinitum

It makes perfect sense for Gnaw Their Tongues and Crowhurst to collaborate, in fact it’s strange it hasn’t happened sooner! Both artists are incredibly prolific and noisy, with LA’s Crowhurst racking up 80+ releases in the last seven years. Both artists often release at least one collaborative effort a year, and naturally, the pair’s ear for horrible, disgusting, vile, tortured noise blends together seamlessly.

Burning Ad Infinitum runs at just over half an hour with four tracks, in which the production is as chaotic and dense as you would imagine from this pairing. Crowhurst deliver sheets of rumbling, harsh noise, with Gnaw Their Tongues splashing an undercurrent of rumbling bass and buried synthesisers. The emphasis on unorthodox percussion from the use of contact mics is what helps to anchor the first three pieces. It’s the final track that offers something more immediate, though, with a more definitive band feel coming through in the blackened hardcore riffs and blasting drums. This leads into a cavernous movement of noisy sludge metal riffing iced in hiss and primal shrieks, before finding it’s way into unrelenting, maniacal blasts once again. The album plays loose and unstructured, but melds two of the bleakest minds together rather well.

Burning Ad Infinitum is out now on Crown & Throne Ltd. Purchase here.

Words: Chris “Frenchie” French

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Stoned Jesus – Pilgrims

Despite the name, Ukraine’s Stoned Jesus are as much prog as stoner rock here. Heavily-layered and effects-rich space and experimentation run throughout Pilgrims. Stoned Jesus are at their best when utilising these elements to plunge from rock-outs into quietness (‘Distant Light’) or when doing the opposite to build up to their loudest (‘Feel’). With repeated listening, all of the detail that they pack into drive these changes becomes all the more apparent.
They are at their weakest, however, when the clean vocals are left to carry the music (‘Thessalia’), sounding thin and slightly out of tune. When there’s a bit of grit to the singing, and especially when combined with a hefty riff, such as in ‘Water Me’, it feels much more like a complete package, rather than an afterthought.
Where the music is expansive, the lyrics report worldly concerns, weaknesses and disillusion. ‘Distant Light’ is an exception in being a sensory evocation of a particular moment, but overall, Stoned Jesus seem to be reporting back some major burnout. This is an interesting coupling, which suggests – true to prog and stoner rock (in its own special way) – some deep thinking.

Pilgrims is out now on Napalm Records. Purchase here.

Words: Gregory Brooks

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Pig Destroyer Head Cage

Although there are still few things as hair-raising as Pig Destroyer at full throttle, the Virginia based five-piece have always been so much more than just a grindcore band. Never afraid to make their wider influences integral to their overall sound, the band’s warped, artful extremity is proof positive that grindcore has just as much three-dimensional potency as any other sub-genre.

And so, whilst their sixth full-length effort Head Cage contains more than enough hyper-speed blasting (just check out the stabby mutant assault of ‘Dark Train’), it is a record that once again pulls off the neat trick of balancing swivel-eyed fury and deranged experimentalism. Indeed, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that Head Cage is, at times, as radical of a departure as we have seen from the band yet, with succinct, groove-driven anthems such as ‘Army Of Cops’ taking Pig Destroyer into metallic hardcore territory, closer ‘House Of Snakes’ adopting slow strangulation/blunt force clout and ‘Circle River’s rampaging rock ‘n’ filth all dialed in to outrageously thrilling effect. Splatter across this the trademark lyrical horror of J.R. Hayes, sounding as incensed and spittle-flecked as ever, and Head Cage‘s deceptively inventive vision is the sort of creative leap forward that will still leave fans of sonic violence smiling through a shattered jaw.

Head Cage is out now on Relapse. Purchase here.

Words: Tony Bliss

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Having seen Nadja perform a set of bone-rattling, soul devouring, loud-as-fuck industrial drone earlier this year, it is surprising to find the Canadian duo (Aidan Baker and Leah Buckareff) creating one of their most serene albums yet with Sonnborner. The main highlight and title-track of the album lasts exactly 30 minutes and has much more in common with the sound of post-rock than the experiments in drone metal that Nadja are synonymous with. The piece moves on a huge, slow-moving crescendo with crashing drums and atmospheric, reverbed guitar that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Godspeed or recent Earth album.

It’s still not exactly a “quiet” piece in any sense, with loud distorted guitars aplenty, but there are plenty of sombre moments, with the gorgeous additions of violins and cello making the last half the most enticing. Sadly, the rest of the album feels like throwaway b-sides, with a very out of place two-minute industrial thrash metal track nearly ruining the majesty of what came before it. Sometimes less is more, and if this album had just showcased the wonderful 30-minute title-track it would have made an even bigger impact.

Sonnborner is out now on Broken Spine Productions. Purchase here.

Words: Chris “Frenchie” French

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Pascagoula – The Path, The Cross, The Aftermath

Eerily labelled as “an homage to legitimate eyewitness accounts, police reports, and evidence found washed up on the banks of the Pascagoula river”, The Path, The Cross, The Aftermath is a veritable cocktail of all things gritty and grisly. Though it draws from subgenres across the heavy spectrum, the most explicitly notable influences here are those of noise rock and sludge, a somewhat strange pairing, but one that’s damn effective.

The chaotic nature of the former genre feeds into the mechanical tempos of the latter, with the album lurching forward like rusted machinery dosed in dry blood and matted hair. Also key are the waves of feedback and dissonant flourishes which, in places, touch more directly upon textures reminiscent of the noise genre. The record also succeeds where others of its kin often fail, in that the riffs themselves favour inharmonious tones, corroborating the carefully constructed atmosphere instead of impeding it for the sake of breaking into a groove.

Indeed, The Path, The Cross, The Aftermath offers an atmosphere that’s as imposing and disconcerting as its creators desired. Get it in your ear holes.

The Path, The Cross, The Aftermath is out now on Dry Cough. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr

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Morne To The Night Unknown

After a five-year absence, Boston quartet Morne have returned with To The Night Unknown, a heavy, immense and affecting dose of atmospheric doom.
First single ‘To The Night Unknown’ opens the album with a dark cacophony of eerie feedback, hammering drums and unsettling noise before exploding into a pummeling riff that doesn’t let go. Adorned with abrasive vocals, a killer solo halfway through and occasional blast-beats, it sets the tone for the album well, creating an intoxicating and gothic-tinged mood. As well as being heavy on atmosphere, it can’t be emphasised enough how huge the album sounds. Indeed, the slow and brooding ‘Show Your Wounds’ is simply thunderous with its thick, melodic riffs and low rumbling bass bolstering the raspy vocals to stunning effect. Similarly, the twin guitar licks and solo midway through the gargantuan ‘Night Awaits The Dawn’ simply soar, rendering the album with a wider pallet of sounds and emotions than your average doom album.
The album’s strengths lie in the way Morne let their songs evolve, their secrets slowly unravelling and subtle hooks embedding themselves in your brain, resulting in a beautifully dark and impressive album.

To The Night Unknown is out now on Armageddon/Morne Records. Purchase here.

Words: Adam Pegg

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