Yet more quality death metal on our latest round-up, but there’s also the experimental musings of Pijn and Sylvaine, amongst others.
Pijn – Loss
Though there are probably more post-rock/metal bands around now than ever before, it can often feel like the genre’s most adventurous days are behind it. Whilst some continue to push the genre in interesting new directions, transcending the tag itself, others refine it into easily characterised tropes. But, as anyone who heard last year’s Floodlit undoubtedly knows already, the mesmeric compositions of Mancunian metallers Pijn sit firmly in the former camp.
The band have been making waves in the underground off the back of that impressive EP as well as the exploratory musings of last September’s Tanzaro House, but Loss is an entirely different affair; a voyage compared to their past excursions. The album blends grounded sentimentality with vast cinematic soundscapes like only the best post-metal can, drifting from one movement to the next with no seams despite displaying immense variation over its 66-minute runtime. On Loss, experimentation is not merely something sprinkled throughout to spice things up, it is integral to Pijn’s core sound. Whether the band are mixing in the ominous aura of doom (‘Squander’), the mournful nuances of ambient music (‘Blanch’) or the desolate poignancy of twangy country guitars (‘Squalor’), they do so with a commendable deft hand.
These movements are held together only by an overarching theme of grief, a sentiment mirrored in the album and track titles, and this recreation of the stages of grief is Loss’ most captivating trait – at times, the album is bitter and angry (‘Distress’), at others it is downtrodden and hopeless (‘Detach’). It can be achingly minimalist, leaving room for introspection, or stifling and overwhelming, reflecting the discordant state of a troubled mind.
Loss is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want
Daughters are a rather intriguing band to follow. Newer listeners might not be aware, but they began life as a ferocious, ripping screamo/emo-violence outfit releasing crackers such as their 2002 debut EP and 2006’s Hell Songs. Their shift into a Jesus Lizard-inspired noise rock band came out of nowhere with 2010’s self-titled album, and then the band seemed to disappear into a mist of confusion. Eight years later they’re back and they certainly mean business.
YWGWYW tidies up the influences of their previous effort with far more confidence and direction. Starting with the relatively calm ‘City Song’, Daughters pile on pounding industrial drums, noisy synths and Alexis Marshall’s nervous, anxiety-ridden vocals that sound somewhere between Talking Heads‘ David Byrne and Swans‘ Michael Gira. As the album treads along, it becomes even more tense and nightmarish with each track. ‘Satan In The Wait’ is built on piercing, air-raid siren synths, whilst ‘The Flammable Man’ is a full-on explosion of horror and violence. By the time the album reaches its conclusion, the tension and dread become almost unbearable. Though this version of Daughters certainly owes a lot to Swans, this album’s nail-biting concept makes for a hard-hitting discography highlight.
You Won’t Get What You Want is out now on Ipecac. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Bismuth – The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef
On their latest release Nottingham-based doom/drone duo Bismuth tackle one of the most pressing environmental issues of our times with a truly hypnotic and affecting piece of work. Entitled The Slow Dying Of the Great Barrier Reef, the new full-length from drummer Joe Rawlings and bassist/synth/vocalist Tanya Byrne is an angry, monolithic leviathan of an album that feels as heavy as the emotive subject matter it addresses – the slow destruction of our natural world. Comprising of just two tracks, the first of which runs over the half-hour mark, the album is an outpouring of anger and passion for the subject matter. Indeed it’s a matter close to singer Byrne’s heart; a volcanologist by day, she clearly has a passion for bringing the plight of our natural world to the listener’s attention with her music.
Despite the sheer scale of the album, it still manages to remain strangely intimate at times. The instruments are given space to breath and the sympathetic drumming by Rawlings helps the music ebb and flow below the gigantic riffs and controlled screams from Byrne. There are quieter passages too that offset the heavier moments, creating an ever-changing tapestry of sound.
Often a genre more associated with introspection, it feels refreshing to hear drone music looking outward to address wider issues. Indeed this is an album to be felt as well as heard.
The Slow Dying Of The Great Barrier Reef is out now on Dry Cough/Rope or Guillotine/Medusa Crush Recordings/Tartarus Records. Purchase here.
Words: Adam Pegg
Bloodbath – The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn
Featuring the legendary likes of Mikael Akerfeldt and Hypocrisy‘s Peter Tagtgren variously at the helm along their gore-strewn career path, the arrival of Paradise Lost frontman Nick Holmes and the stellar Grand Morbid Funeral in 2014 saw Bloodbath move away from the more contemporary precision of 2008’s The Fathomless Mastery, and look further back to the arcane atmospheres of death metal’s immortal glory years. Pitched between Stockholm’s buzz-saw violence and Florida’s heat-addled menace, the Swedes may have often had each foot firmly planted in both ends of the genre spectrum, yet it is undeniable that the joyously, furiously old school spew espoused on The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn is where the band conclusively reveal themselves as the true embodiment of everything that death metal is about.
Holmes, of course, takes centre stage, his unearthly growl a peerless foreground presence, yet it is the gleefully incisive riffs vomited from the guitars of Joakim Karlsson and Anders “Blakkheim” Nyström that makes everything from the blackened, multi-limbed attack of opener ‘Fleischmann’ through to ‘Chainsaw Lullaby’s glorious grotesquery resound with a power born of the inherent magic of death metal done right. Deceptively hook-laden yet never straying from a line of vicious purity, The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn is an object lesson in unfettered, backwards-looking extremity.
The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn is out now on Peaceville. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Upon Desolate Sands is a strong record. Right from opener ‘The Violent Fury’ Hate Eternal show that they very much have a place in the death metal landscape of 2018 and beyond. The quality of songwriting contained within these nine tracks could teach a thing or two to a lot of “brutal” bands out there. Not a single note feels out of place or unnecessary, every blastbeat and solo weaving together and blending like a fine tapestry of snappy snare, grinding bass tone, and eloquent melodic flourishes.
Songs such as ‘What Lies Beyond’ and ‘All Hope Destroyed’ are perfect statements of the intent that this furious album is driving home; at once dizzying and technical without becoming overwhelming yet melodic and song-driven without straying from the savagery for one second. The ever-present slick Erik Rutan production job once again goes to show just how his ear is perfect for this type of aural barbarity. The snare snaps and cuts through like a gunshot, the bass is clear and grinding, the vocals are ferocious and sit in the mix so comfortably; it really is a masterclass in knowing how to treat heavy music. Upon Desolate Sands is a bona fide death metal ripper and deserves a spot in many, many year-end lists.
Upon Desolate Sands is out now on Season Of Mist. Purchase here.
Words: Red Sismey
Under – Stop Being Naive
Stockport trio Under follow up last year’s impressive debut full-length, Slick, with the latest offering to roll off the ever-expanding APF Records production line. Stop Being Naive is anything but, featuring ten sludgy songs (on the vinyl version, nine on CD) of genre-melding heaviness interjected with moments of outright noise rock weirdness, sudden time signature changes and surprisingly effective vocal harmonies.
No two songs here sound the same, but without any weak links, Under have thrown down the gauntlet, showing that inventiveness and experimentation can still result in an album with a completely coherent feel. Stop Being Naive is a complete work rather than just a collection of songs. Last track ‘Circadian Driftwood’ is probably the most ethereal on Naive, with a sense of finality that brings everything to a close perfectly. Fully expect to see this on many AOTY lists!
Stop Being Naive is out now on APF Records. Purchase here.
Words: David Brand
Hissing – Permanent Destitution
It’s very easy to take terms like “heavy”, “disturbing” and “brutal” for granted in music today. This is due in no small part to the efforts of bands like Portal, who parted the gates of hell right here in the canteen and left them open. That being said, it’s been a while since something really vile and dangerous got out, but fear not. Permanent Destitution, the latest effort from Seattle’s Hissing puts paid to the idea of audial safety for anyone, presenting as it does a genuinely evil sound that blends the contrariness of Ulcerate with the dimension-destabilising, violent slither of Deathspell Omega.
From the grave-digging-in-space and confounding detonation of opener ‘Backwards Descent’, to the what-is-happening of ‘Perdurance’, Permanent Destitution is less a collection of songs than a truly committed, pointed nightmare that has chosen this band to host its form. The production is deliberately unbalanced so the guitars move in and out of the light like wraiths, with the drums pushed forward and sharpened to prevent you from finding any peace. A hellish masterclass in how to keep a listener’s soul on its toes, there isn’t a dull moment on this album. Magnificent.
Permanent Destitution is out now on Profound Lore. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Ursa – Abyss Between The Stars
A quick question: what do songs called ‘Wizard’s Path’, ‘Dragon’s Beard’, and ‘Cave of the Spider King’ sound like? Odds are, if you’ve encountered more than a handful of doom/stoner records, you know the answer. Abyss Between The Stars from Ursa sounds exactly like you’d expect an album featuring such songs to sound like. The ghosts of Black Sabbath and Sleep hang heavy over this one, for better and worse.
In one way, Abyss Between The Stars does nothing wrong. Its doom/stoner is skilfully crafted, played with talent, and it’s clear that Ursa are having fun playing these songs about dragons and yetis and mountains. But it also does pretty much nothing new. There are hundreds of bands who sound like this, all playing songs that draw from the same inspirations, doing nothing to suggest that “innovation” is anything other than a dirty word. None of which is to say that Abyss Between The Stars is a bad record, or Ursa a bad band. It’s enjoyable enough, and sure to get heads nodding. But it also feels depressingly interchangeable with so many other bands, and given that members also play in the forward-thinking prog/black metal band Cormorant, that can’t help but be something of a disappointment.
Abyss Between The Stars is out now on Blood Music. Purchase here.
Words: Stuart Wain
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Mandy (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
As potentially the most metal film of the year, it’s only fitting that Mandy should have a soundtrack packed with ominous soundscapes and doomy atmospheres. The film itself pays homage to metal, both in its imagery and through the odd reference (most notably the titular Mandy’s choice of shirts), and its soundtrack does the same, touching repeatedly on extreme sounds that reflect the film’s love of gore, and consistently delving into the realms of drone and doom.
Even with the wailing guitar of ‘Dive-Bomb Blues’ and the low-end thuds of ‘Waste’, though, the Mandy OST is not a metal album. Its first half lingers primarily on poignant ambient music and menacing orchestrations that showcase some of the late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s greatest work. Though the Icelandic composer, who tragically passed earlier this year at the age of 48, will most likely be remembered more frequently for his stellar, Oscar-nominated scores for The Theory of Everything and Sicario, his final full film score is a breathtaking bout of creativity that perfectly reflects the imaginative vision of the film’s director, Panos Cosmatos. Aided by Sunn O)))’s Stephen O’Malley on guitar and co-producer Randall Dunn, both of whom know their way around heavy music, Jóhannsson’s score is packed with a darkness and despair that’s hallucinatory but palpable.
Mandy OST is out now on Lakeshore/Invada Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Street Sects – The Kicking Mule
Usually when a band follows up their gnarly and abrasive debut album with a slightly more clean and polished follow-up, the fanbase let out a collective groan. This shouldn’t be the case with Street Sects‘ sophomore record. The Texan’s debut record End Position was a brutal and nightmarish blast of industrial power noise, slightly in the realm of acts like Uniform and Youth Code. With their following Rat Jacket EP, they hinted towards more of the post-punk end of industrial, and have realised that transition further with The Kicking Mule.
The synths and production brim with even more colour. And yet there are still plenty of the manic screams and lashings of noise that defined their debut. Opening track ‘269 Soulmates’ sets the tone as a mission statement really well, whilst ‘Suicide By Cop’ proves they can even add in hooks and melodies into their demented and sadistic chaos. Street Sects have added more strings to their bow with The Kicking Mule, without totally disregarding what made them so appealing in the first place. They still very much inhabit that dark, seedy underworld as explored in their fantastic graphic novel inspired artwork, as if The Joker made an album!
The Kicking Mule is out now on The Flenser. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Megaton Leviathan – Mage
With such a name/logo combination up front, you’d think Megaton Leviathan’s latest was a trudge through the sewage realms of doom or a shrieking, risen ghoul rattling the chains it forged in life. It’s a trudge all right, though perhaps not in the way its authors intended. Starting as though you’re walking in part way through a conversation, Mage is a masterclass in how to promise much and deliver little. The first two tracks drag The Cure, Crippled Black Phoenix and latter-day Swans behind a campervan in a completely ordinary sack before the title-track arrives to deliver a semblance of hope. Grand like the Canyon with a stately throb and vocals from the dust itself, ‘Mage’ is engaging, detailed and knowing, and marks a slight turn in the fortunes of this record.
The singing on ‘The Belldog’ is quite bad, with Andrew James Costa Reuscher reaching deep into the note bucket and fishing out the wrong things. It’s got a bit of Depeche Mode about it here – especially the drums – which makes the kind-of-but-also-not-heavy-enough fifteen minutes of ‘Within The Threshold’ incongruous. ML want to cross boundaries and they do, but Mage doesn’t have the anchor necessary to prevent indulgent drift.
Mage is out now on Blood Music. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Cancer – Shadow Gripped
This isn’t the first time UK death metal veterans Cancer have reformed and returned; but anyone who remembers the disaster that was Spirit In Flames need not worry. Shadow Gripped is the sound of the Cancer we all wanted, with these old warriors tapping into the same kind of sounds that powered To the Gory End and Dead Shall Rise. It’s no-nonsense, vicious UK death metal, that takes no real risks but is all the better for it.
There’s little here other than the production that suggests Shadow Gripped is being released in 2018 rather than the early ’90s. The songs are as crude as ever, with plenty of lyrics about murder, death, violence and gore, with the riffs and leads being drawn from the same DNA as those on the early, classic albums. Practically all traces of the groove metal of Black Faith are gone, replaced by early death metal punishment. And yet, as little as it deviates from template, Shadow Gripped succeeds because of its conviction and sheer force of will. Other than the cover art, there’s nothing about Shadow Gripped that is less than solid. It might not set the world alight, but it‘s a welcome return to form.
Shadow Gripped is out now on Peaceville. Purchase here.
Words: Stuart Wain
Nazi Killer – Nazi Killer 7″
Musically, much like their name, Nazi Killer do not fuck around. Sixteen raw, driving punk-infused blasts of fastcore in just seven and a half minutes is the order of the day and boy does it blow the cobwebs away. Over in a flash, this 7 ” may be short but the effect is lingering. The blastbeats, punk riffs, and bully stomps are still very much front and centre but Nazi Killer offer a slightly tweaked take on the classic fastcore formula with some noise rock-style affectations on the vocals with part-spoken, almost slurred delivery at points that elevates this release from merely enjoyable to memorable.
Despite no song breaking above forty seconds, each frenetic riff feels like it has a place and no song here feels like an idea dump which can often be a pitfall of the style; all sixteen cuts feel fully formed and purposeful which lends to repeated listens extremely well. There are plenty of fast bands on the block but Nazi Killer feel fresh and this release rewards the listener in spades with a focused, targeted aural attack that is worth seven minutes of anyone’s day. Do not sleep on this.
Nazi Killer 7″ is out now. Purchase here.
Words: Red Sismey