2018 is the gift that keeps on giving, with yet another fantastic fortnight of releases.
High On Fire – Electric Messiah
Perhaps it’s a result of Matt Pike expunging his slowed-down, stoner demons in Sleep’s surprise release The Sciences back in April, but Electric Messiah, the eighth album from High On Fire, leans more heavily into bursts of frenetic paces and cacophonous chaos than their past material. Even in a two-decade career defined by gargantuan riffs, Electric Messiah stands out for its intensity, which falls somewhere between the growling, head-on power of Motörhead and the madcap heaviness of modern extreme metal.
The former is unsurprising given Pike’s heavily documented recollections of a recent Lemmy-related dream, supposedly a strong inspiration on opener ‘Spewn From The Earth’, which kicks proceedings off with a hammer-down leap into bludgeoning riffs. Indeed, whilst the lyrical topics cover everything from dreams and Sumerian myths to Sir Francis Drake, the music itself is more concerned with primal brutality. The lack of more lumbering numbers means Electric Messiah comes across as less dynamic than its predecessors, but it’s also more consistently thrilling, revelling in chaos whether it comes in the form of driving sludgy thrash (‘Freebooter’), classic rock riffage (‘Drowning Dog’) or the ever-present pummelling percussion, which endures even when the guitars opt for mid-tempo riffs (‘Steps Of The Ziggurat/House Of Enlil’, ‘The Pallad Mask’).
“By far the best record I’ve ever made with the High On Fire stamp,” Pike claims. If you’re a fan of High On Fire at their most direct, it’s hard to disagree.
Electric Messiah is out now on eOne. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Windhand – Eternal Return
Richmond, Virginia based doom outfit Windhand are back with their fourth full-length album. By this point, they have made quite a name from themselves as one of the best doom acts to look out for. Eternal Return isn’t a great departure from previous outings, but with this record, Windhand have managed to straddle the line between hardened riffs and accessibility. Just take opener ‘Halcyon’ as a prime example; Dorthia Cottrell’s vocals are sweet and soothing, allowing the band to work in hummable yet melancholic hooks, with a dirge of molten riffs being saved right ’til the end. So many of these songs have bittersweet, soaring choruses that will infect your brain.
At times, the tone of the album resembles a straight-up rock record, like on ballad ‘Pilgrim’s Rest’. The album has a grunge-influenced atmosphere and sonic pallet, recalling some of the slower moments of Nirvana and Alice In Chains, both vocally and instrumentally – not a stretch considering Jack Endino has produced once again. Eternal Return boasts many impressive moments, but a lack of varied ideas does start to make it a slog towards the end of its hour-plus run. Fortunately, the overall vibe is absolutely delightful.
Eternal Return is out now on Relapse. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Black Peaks – All That Divides
In a time that seems to favour originality and creativity over throw-away thrills, the emergence of Brighton four-piece Black Peaks and their snowballing popularity has not only seen them stand out from their contemporary UK peers, but also act as a joyous example of how bands with true artistic intentions are able to make a sizable dent beyond underground circles. Whilst their 2016 debt Statues was an imposing demonstration of their genre-hopping approach, All That Divides is an evolutionary step towards the elite likes of Tool, Meshuggah and Deftones, who elude categorisation and are quite simply themselves.
And so, despite the fact that the tuneful yet gnarly alt-rock of opener ‘Can’t Sleep’ is somewhat of a red herring, the record soon expands into a kaleidoscopic sprawl of ideas, bursting with dynamic colour and delivering a sustained barrage of jaw-dropping moments. Look to the cascading melodies of ‘Æther’ or the terrifyingly poignant mini-epic outpouring that is ‘Home’ for the best of the bunch here, yet in reality the widescreen, artful squall, the bug-eyed aggression, the lingering hooks and the post-rock meandering sees All That Divides dare to indulge the band’s sonic curiosity without putting a foot wrong throughout. A breathless, commanding piece of work from the most absurdly exciting outfit produced on our fair shores in a very long time.
All That Divides is out now on Rise Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
A Storm Of Light – Anthroscene
A Storm Of Light have been harshing the world’s mellow for ten years and four full-lengths now, and on Anthroscene their nihilism is landing right on the nose, having fully ditched the post-metal soundscapes and exploratory nature which defined their earlier albums for the immediacy of mid-paced grooves and industrial tones. On Anthroscene this transition feels complete, intense and massive, like the end of the world is actually being delivered via your speakers. Compressed guitars compress. Drummer Chris Common sounds like he’s working out some anger issues. The sawtooth synths are extra sharp.
With this dialling in of sound the vocals have also cleaned up, with vocalist Josh Graham sounding like Maynard James Keenan from Tool’s Lateralus era at points. Lyrically, Anthroscene largely forgoes A Storm Of Light’s old stomping ground of environmental concerns, being more of a hate letter to modern political ills, particular the resurgence of the populist. “A sociopathic narcissist was our king” (‘Life Will Be Violent’) and “Our leaders continue to push us/All into havoc/what the fuck is wrong with us?” (‘Blackout’) are some of the most direct examples.
The narrowing of their sound is both a focusing and a limitation, and this makes Anthroscene a powerful, muscular listen, rather than a hugely exciting or daring one; the exploration is over. Nihilism on the nose.
Anthroscene is out now on Consouling Sounds. Purchase here.
Words: Gregory Brooks
Un – Sentiment
Un‘s previous album, The Tomb of All Things, was a very strong debut; a funeral doom album that demonstrated a clear understanding of the importance of space, tension, and contrast. It was, as you’d hope for, heavy as anything; but it also had heart, and an emotional core. Follow-up Sentiment builds upon those aspects, showing that the debut was no fluke.
Each of the four songs on Sentiment is long, with plenty of time to build atmosphere. Yet the songs never feel bloated or stretched, with each drawn-out riff feeling exactly as long as it needs to be. There’s a wonderful sense of space throughout – whether that be a feeling of openness, or that the music is suffocating the listener. But where Sentiment really succeeds is in its sense of, well, sentiment. These songs are heartfelt, full of grief and pain, but also something close to a sense of hope and catharsis. The title-track is especially worthy of praise, with its shimmering melodies that contrast so strongly with the weighty central riffs. It’s a captivating, moving album, that leaves the listener feeling at once exhausted, but also spiritually and emotionally refreshed by its end.
Sentiment is out now on Translation Loss Records. Purchase here.
Words: Stuart Wain
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – King Of Cowards
An inventive blend of stoner metal played both straight and with bouts of experimentation, King Of Cowards is the latest release from Newcastle’s Pigs Pigs Pigs Pi—ah, let’s just call ’em Pigsx7. Coming just twenty months after their debut LP, this second full-length effort takes one or two strides towards a more accessible sound – most immediately noticeable by the average track length, which has fallen from around fifteen minutes to about seven – but the band still confidently wield a bludgeoning riff with no pretence.
Despite the reduced track lengths, though, King Of Cowards actually comes across much more considered, with the various elements of their sound given more room to breathe. Inevitably, this means the cacophonous Motörhead-esque raucousness is noticeably toned down (though Matt Baty’s vocals are still reminiscent of Lemmy), but King Of Cowards still holds Pigsx7’s trademark billowing tone, and it’s also more progressive and psychedelic than its predecessor, offering a groove-filled trip that’s capable of left-field turns but not overly reliant on them.
It may sonically fall short of the overwhelming heaviness of their debut, but King Of Cowards retains Pigsx7’s most endearing traits and bolsters them with infectious-but-pulverising riffs and top-notch songwriting. Check it out.
King Of Cowards is out now on Rocket Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Cirith Ungol – Witch’s Game
Even though they reformed in 2015, I think it’s safe to say that no one really excepted Cirith Ungol to release new music. After all, it’s been 25 years since their last album, Paradise Lost. And yet here it is, a brand new single that heralds a coming album. Witch’s Game is a two-track release that is bound to ease any worries over whether the band could still cut it; after all, though they never reached the popular heights of the likes of Iron Maiden, Cirith Ungol’s brand of doom-laced heavy metal has been incredibly important to the metal underground over the years.
‘Witch’s Game’ itself, as a song, is a good summation of what Cirith Ungol are about, and a relatively “safe” way to return. Headbanging riffs; guitar heroics; and Tim Baker’s distinctive vocals are all present and correct. Save for the production, you could easily mistake it for a song from one of their classic albums – which is exactly what you’d hope for, and bodes well for the new material the band are working on. The B-side, a live version of classic song ‘Doomed Planet’, is a fine version of a fine song, but the new track is the draw here, and absolutely delivers.
Witch’s Game is out now on Metal Blade Records. Purchase here.
Words: Stuart Wain
Revocation – The Outer Ones
A consistently brilliant and not a little underrated force in the modern extreme metal scene, Massachusetts quintet Revocation have been threatening to deliver a genuine classic for a while now. Building on their signature brand of stormy tech-death, The Outer Ones takes the band into more intricate and immersive territory whilst simultaneously anchoring their sound in a churning, visceral strain of Lovecraftian horror.
Indeed, whilst the likes of 2016’s Great Is Our Sin revealed some of the bands skewed progressive trimming leaking through the cracks, this is forty-eight minutes of the most willfully extreme, complex and aggressive music Revocation have delivered in their nigh on two-decade career. A tangible whiff of black metal’s grim allure in ‘Blood Atonement’, the title-track’s part post-Death complexity and reassuring Gojira-esque thud and several moments of simply remarkable six-string prowess (‘That Which Consumes All Things’ features some particularly impressive lead breaks) all help to sustain the feeling that these virtuosos are somewhat drunk with enthusiasm and revelling in the chance to explore the nightmarish underbelly of contemporary death metal’s hybrid brutality. Add to this a running lyrical theme of astral terror and Cthulhu-conjuring darkness, and The Outer Ones is an utter metallic triumph across the board.
The Outer Ones is out now on Metal Blade Records. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
Author & Punisher – Beastland
Industrial hate machine Author & Punisher makes his much-anticipated return. Beastland sees him joining the Relapse Records roster, a label that is not only releasing cutting edge metal releases but plenty of great synth and electronic projects too (SURVIVE, Miracle, Steve Moore, Arcadea). This time around, A&P steps up to the plate with his biggest, boldest and brightest productions yet. Imagine the most abrasive, angriest and hate-fuelled moments of Nine Inch Nails crossed with elements of noise and industrial techno. Opener ‘Pharmacide’ sets the tone with pounding and clanging looped beats, noise-laden swirling synths with earth-shattering, rumbling bass, topped off with Tristan Shone’s menacing screams. ‘Nihil Strength’ is a straight-up banger, sounding like the best and heaviest parts of Godflesh and Dälek combined.
There is also a welcome place for more serene moments, with the middle run of the record exploring more atmospheric and even shoegazey sounds. The wonderful ‘Nazarene’ is reminiscent of another Relapse legend, namely The Dillinger Escape Plan‘s ‘Unretrofied’. Here A&P works in Trent Reznor-esque singing vocals, making for a soaring chorus. Beastland is one of the industrial highlights of the year. A record that will tantalise you and fuck you up in one fell swoop.
Beastland is out now on Relapse. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French