A wide variety of styles converge in our latest round-up.
Wilderness Hymnal – Anthropocene
These days, the most interesting artists are those who approach the very notion of genre as something to be challenged. Even genres that once started as something exciting and experimental eventually run their course, and on his new album, British-Venezuelan singer and pianist Javier Wallis takes a handful of post-rock, a pinch of psychedelia and a smattering of dream pop and chucks them into a melting pot to emerge with something truly transcendent.
At times, the expansive soundscapes bring to mind the mind-bending concoctions of Sleep Token, but instead of drawn-out build-ups, these tracks often have much more going on from the get-go. Anthropocene feels like the convergence of several different ideas, capable of warping a soothing piano passage into an unnerving psychedelic trip, or an earthy Wardruna-esque choir into a distinctly modern display of cinematic majesty.
And yet, despite an ambitious scope, Anthropocene is still grounded where it needs to be. The press release cites both ecological and emotional harm as a basis for these compositions, and the pain is certainly felt. Wallis can build suspense like no other, always bolstering the drama without shattering the impenetrable aura of mystery, and seldom overcomplicating a track for the sake of showing off. When he does let his musical prowess show, it’s stunning, but the focus here is the breathtaking soundscapes that twist and turn until the very end. If you want to create a sound that’s truly your own, this is how you do it.
Anthropocene is out now on AWAL/Kobalt. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Portrayal Of Guilt – Let Pain Be Your Guide
Austin, Texas-based Portrayal Of Guilt unleash their debut album, a crisp 22 minutes of no-nonsense screamo (or is it emoviolence now?). The band take those influences of bands like Envy, pg.99 and Orchid, but darken things even more with their blackened atmosphere. Sonically and compositionally, this album makes a good pairing with Bosse-de-Nage‘s latest album Further Still, which explored a similar sonic pallet. Let Pain Be Your Guide comes out as the winner, with an even better understanding of dynamics.
Not just content to ripping blasts and furious performances (though of course there are plenty), POG open and close the album with their longest and most thought-out compositions (‘Daymare’ and ‘Until We’re Dust’ respectively). Between that it is a bleak and unforgiving experience, but the screamo influences really shine through, especially on ‘Your War’, proving that there is a passionate and raw heart pumping through their veins. Big up the vocal performances on this album, which bounce between insane high-end rasps, chunky low end growls, and sheer throat-shredding bile. In just 22 minutes, POG really cover a lot of ground, building on their oppressive atmosphere with eerie percussive sounds and sad clean guitars. Let pain be your guide…
Let Pain Be Your Guide is out now on Holy Roar/Gilead. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Sarah Longfield – Disparity
It can’t be easy being Sarah Longfield. Very much a lady in a djentleman’s world, she’s got lots of extra hoops to jump through that a bloke wouldn’t, and one would hope that Disparity would go some way to diminishing such hurdles. An insultingly good musician on every instrument present on this relatively brief record, from the Hollywood-ian ‘Intro’ onwards, Longfield biffs out nine tracks that are more sketches than songs.
This isn’t to decry their worth – there’s a huge amount of stuff on the go. With nods to the likes of Traced In Air-era Cynic on ‘Embracing Solace’, saxophone, piano and jaunty percussion all get a look-in, alongside the nimble fret-adventures that she’s known for, but there’s more to Disparity than excessive modal work. There’s a dry sense of humour and some outrageous composition – see the off-jazz Dynasty Warriors-ness of ‘Cataclysm’ – but the really good stuff comes when Longfield slows proceedings from ‘Sun’ onwards. Closing track ‘The Fall’ is ace, with a distinct character that is pleasingly hard to place. Beasting drumming too – no messing. If you’re even remotely curious, this record has a lot to offer, so get in about it sharpish.
Disparity is out now on Season Of Mist. Purchase here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Battalions – Forever Marching Backwards
Credit where it is most certainly due, APF Records have smashed it this year, and it’s been quite the ride watching their influence in the UK metal scene grow. Forever Marching Backwards is the label’s third release in six weeks, and it is certainly in keeping with the quality shown throughout APF’s stellar year. As anyone who’s followed the label would expect, Hull’s Battalions sit firmly in the doom camp, but they’re much nearer the stoner subgenre than anything else. Their third album’s title pays heed to society’s constant refusal to progress, but whilst the title-track does hold an impending doom in its churning riff, the album also consistently revels in stoner frivolity. It isn’t a gripping social commentary, more an admission that the world’s fucked, so we might as well get fucked too.
In many cases, these tracks don’t do a whole lot more than your average stoner band, but the remarkably consistent quality of the riffs helps this album to swagger with a vigour that most of their peers are lacking. Plus, whilst they stay camped under the safety of the doom umbrella, that doesn’t mean they don’t take the odd walk within it, mixing in some bluesy rhythms (‘Cities Of Ruin’), punkier tempos (‘Vaseline (G)Love’), sludgy intensity (‘Infinite Void’) and southern-fried grooves (‘Devil’s Footsteps’). It may be stoner metal, but at thirty minutes, Forever Marching Backwards doesn’t languorously overstay its welcome. Stick it on for some easily-digestible grooves and you’ll find yourself wanting to revisit it.
Forever Marching Backwards is out now on APF Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Vow – Gentle Decline
At the tail-end of this god-forsaken (and musically prominent) decade black metal has triumphantly transcended into the alternative mainstream, thanks in no small part to the shoegazey sensibilities (and efforts) of a host of artists – who, to simplify, can be traced back to Agalloch.
Possessing that ferocious spirit so inherent to black metal’s genesis, and the polished sensibilities of the ’00s post-black metal explosion, Vow‘s Gentile Decline exists – like the legendary Dale Cooper – between two worlds. It’s difficult to put into words exactly what is so special about the two Altar Of Plagues-esque post-black metal soundscapes on display here. But perhaps it’s best to explain the duality that lies within – one that sums up rather well the duality between old and new that exists in the black metal scene today.
Across the record’s nigh-on half hour runtime, there exists an urgency and an angst that’s been missing from black metal in the past few years from the cassette exclusive trve, to the progressively polished, both of which vie for dominance in the physical and digital spaces black metal inhabits. If, like many of us, you’re unsure of where you stand in the miasma of 21st-century black metal culture, listen to Gentile Decline. Perhaps you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Gentle Decline is out now. Purchase here.
Words: Rich Lowe
Jon Vayla – Float Beneath The Sun
Movie soundtracks, through necessity, often have a richer emotive palette than any other form of recorded music, with more emphatic highs and more downtrodden lows. The problem with listening to them in isolation, however, is that it can become overtly clear that they are written specifically to serve a visual piece, meaning their entertainment value can be prone to moments that feel flat or comparatively dull when heard without the visual cues they aim to bolster. Perhaps that’s why Bolt Gun guitarist Jon Vayla’s first solo album, inspired by and written in the style of a film score, is as effective as it is.
Music that takes on a cinematic quality is always an exciting proposition, but Float Beneath The Sun goes a step further. Vayla cites the likes of Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer as influences, and that’s certainly noticeable in the rich orchestrations, but when coupled with the touches of ambient electronics and droning guitars, the album also brings to mind the more experimental work of late Oscar winner Jóhann Jóhannsson. Bands like Earth and Sunn O))) are certainly an inspiration, but Vayla also mentions ambient experimental artists like Lawrence English and William Basinski as references. If you like your music vast in scope and deeply immersive, this is for you.
Float Beneath The Sun is out 3rd December. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
In The Woods… – Cease The Day
Although the return of In The Woods… in 2014 may not have made for headline-grabbing news, their re-emergence after a fourteen-year hiatus could only be met with frothing delight by those in the know. Whilst the release of 2016’s sublime Pure defined the progressive despondency of their early work and displayed a remarkable songwriting growth (even after such a prolonged lay off), Cease The Day continues the band’s glorious rebirth with an audaciously accessible if still dynamically ambitious affair.
Indeed, for all its metallic hellfire and sprawling atmospherics, it is the innumerable decisive melodies throughout which are the telling factor here. Tracks such as ‘Respect My Solitude’, ‘Empty Streets’ and an exquisitely dramatic ‘Cloud Seeder’ crackle with the sort of irresistible hooks that could bring a tear to the eye of any still-in-mourning HIM fan, and between its brief snatches of the urgent, incisive riffs of old, Cease The Day has more in common with the doom-laden gait of Swallow The Sun and the deftly mournful antics of the Peaceville Three than of the band’s black metal past. Thoroughly absorbing and bristling with emotional depth, the maverick Norwegians again turn in a timely reminder that wider recognition is long overdue.
Cease The Day is out now on Debemur Morti Productions. Purchase here.
Words: Tony Bliss
Dead Retinas – Divine
Dead Retinas are a Manchester-based hardcore band who have been making a real name for themselves with their high-energy live performances. The quartet capture that certain vibe of bands that were popular during the nu-metal era, but weren’t necessarily nu-metal, with influences of Deftones, Will Haven, Glassjaw and even Helmet certainly shining through. The crunchy bass sound and chunky riffs really dominate the mix (recorded by Leeched bassist Laurie Morbey), with some occasional splashes of noisy, discordant guitars coming in. But what stands out most is just how accessible Dead Retinas are. These guys aren’t afraid to throw in some bouncy riffs and hook-laden choruses, even if lead vocalists CJ’s hardcore bark makes the lyrics hard to decipher, there is still a sense that you could end up learning these vocals and “singing” along.
With just three songs, Divine is a suitable window into Dead Retinas’ sound, but go catch them live to really see what this band are about!
Divine is out now. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Bast – Nanoångström
Returning with their trademark mishmash of black metal and sludge, Bast’s second album takes some slightly more experimental sidesteps than 2014’s Spectres, at times coming off like a blackened Neurosis, but never quite doing so consistently enough to tread any new territory. Nanoångström sees the trio ambitiously attempt to keep five ten-minute tracks interesting. To their credit, they largely succeed, but there’s some tightening up to be done here; not all these tracks truly earn their runtime.
The melding of genres is commendable and deftly handled, but these differing styles often meet but don’t interact. For that reason, one or two of these tracks are no more innovative than putting chips on one half of the plate and lasagne on the other and calling it experimental cooking. Nanoångström is very much the sum of its parts and nothing more. The good news, though, is that many of these parts are solid. After a two-minute intro track, proper opener ‘Far Horizons’ maintains a furious energy that traverses several plains with ease. Elsewhere, the title-track holds alluring doom as well as infectious bluesy licks and allows itself time to swell towards a satisfying conclusion that helps the runtime feel necessary, and closer ‘The Ghosts Which Haunt the Space Between the Stars’ is perhaps the strongest and most consistently interesting of them all. With this sort of ambition, in any other year Bast may find themselves ruling the roost, but in a year so packed with quality forward-thinking metal, this isn’t quite enough to make the headlines.
Nanoångström is out now on Black Bow Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr