Reviews Round-Up 020: Dark Ambient, Cinematic Black Metal and Psychedelic Folk Rock

Rotting Christ – The Heretics

2016’s Ritual was a towering achievement for Rotting Christ. Powered by the sort of thunder and lightning heavy metal hewn from Bathory or Celtic Frost’s timeless foundation, the bands twelfth record drew listeners into the eye of their blasphemous storm via choral chanting, esoteric atmospherics and a quasi-ceremonial flair. Whilst The Heretics represents something of a natural successor to that pitch-black colossus, it is every inch as vast, imperious and cinematic.

As Rotting Christ have become accustomed to do, The Heretics features a whole host of elements that, whilst certainly not uncommon on a metal record, have seldom appeared with such hypnotic power – moments that will dazzle and delight anyone lusting for a dash of the inspirational amid their standard extreme metal fix. Witness the monastic Manowar stylings of ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ and ‘Fire God And Fear’ for some spine-tingling invocations, however not a second passes throughout these ten tracks without kingdom-levelling conviction and a mythological splendour, sometimes a call-to-arms battle cry akin to the rallying Rohirrim (‘Die Irae’), others the stately pomp of classic literature colliding with strident metal (‘The Raven’). Cower before the first genuine masterwork of 2019.

The Heretics is out now on Season Of Mist. Purchase here.

Words: Tony Bliss


Seer Vol. 6

A lot of metal with traditional leanings doubles down on the genre’s formula, seeming to expect enthusiasm alone to carry it through. However, despite the artwork, some ye olde English (song titles like ’Oath Of Exile’ and ’Seven Stars, Seven Stones’) and Vol. 6 being a concept album, Seer are a trad metal band only in part, avoiding clichés in favour of a harder–edged mix of trad, doom and sludge. Their dark, atavistic vibe is just as well compared to Samothrace, In The Company Of Serpents or Beastwars as to Grand Magus or Manowar. Vocalist Bronson Lee Norton mixes clean singing with screams (‘As The Light Fades’ is a prime example) to great effect, and alongside an engaging mix of the aforementioned styles, it’s an atmospheric listen, with singing bowls, wolf calls, windpipes and lots of synths.

Although it takes a bit of listening to untwist the details, Vol. 6 is a continuation of the story told on Seer’s five previous releases. Partially due to a running time of 39 minutes, it falls just short of being the epic story it clearly wishes to be. With that said, this is good incentive to go back and start with Seer’s Vol. 1.

Vol. 6 is out now on Artoffact Records. Purchase here.

Words: Gregory Brooks



Hexvessel – All Tree

It’s easy to take a glancing look at Finland’s Hexvessel and dismiss them as nothing more than the sort of extravagant, mythology-obsessed folk metallers you see a tad too often, but spend some time with these psychedelic folk rockers and you’ll soon find yourself swayed by their charm. Though All Tree will undoubtedly come adorned by the usual hyperbolic buzzwords that aim to make a record sound as if it was written on a hand-carved lute during a mushroom trip amongst Scandinavian forests, these are some truly touching musings that are much more folk than they are metal.

Ten years in, Mat “Kvohst” McNerney’s project have lost none of their ability to weave a captivating tune, striking a remarkable balance between bewitching, calming instrumentals and infectious, moving melodies. The return of Andrew “Aort” McIvor is perhaps most responsible for this effort’s similarities to the stripped-back sombreness of their 2011 debut Dawnbearer, but the release isn’t without its complexities. Whilst the music remains focused on simple string arrangements and gentle finger-picking, the melodies are dreamy and the music’s modesty, for all its inherent serenity, bizarrely injects the odd moment of disquiet into proceedings.

Perhaps the stripped-back approach is more effective than most of the band’s peers realise, for amongst the hippie-revolution nostalgia and centuries-old folk tales held within is something tangible that sets it apart from the pack. A truly endearing release from a band who manage to surprise even when taking the unembellished approach.

All Tree is out now on Century Media. Purchase here.

Words: George Parr


Downfall Of Gaia – Ethic Of Radical Finitude

Familiarity breeds contempt as the old saying goes, though there are always exceptions to any rule. Having spent a career swithering twixt post-black metal and half-time stargazing, Downfall Of Gaia are an exquisite example of taking a style and refining it. On their sixth release, Ethic Of Radical Finitude, the wide-open, breathless vocals, minor-key blasting and storm-cloud lead lines are firmly in place, none of which will surprise anyone who’s come across them before.

However, it’s incredible how determined this sounds. The drums alone are so committed to pushing this record along that the listener gets emotionally invested in them, and even though there are two spoken word segments – please don’t do this – the whole thing is so damn earnest that it’s hard not to admire it. …Finitude manages to sound both grand and eager at the same time, with the daunting ‘We Pursue The Serpent Of Time’ serving as a defining moment on this immovably stark recording. It’s worth taking this album as exactly that – a piece of music from beginning to end, rather than a collection of songs. If you like your black metal in widescreen, this is definitely worth a listen, so track it down.

Ethic Of Radical Finitude is out now on Metal Blade Records. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson


Enon Chapel – Enon Chapel

The brainchild of Meghan Wood (Crown Of Asteria) and Balan (Palace Of Worms), Enon Chapel is a slightly different beast compared to either of their other bands. Rather than atmospheric, avant-garde black metal, the self-titled EP from the duo is a vicious black-thrash attack, drawing from the old masters – so, there’s plenty of Bathory worship here – but also more besides. The forward-thinking nature of both musicians can’t help but come through, with the song structures and dynamics being more progressive than is the norm for the genre, and there’s a few moments throughout that recall the darkness of the last Palace Of Worms album, The Ladder; most notably on closer ‘The Unscrupulous Reverend Howse’, the longest song on the tape.

Taking lyrical inspiration from the scandalous burials of their name-sake, Enon Chapel has a kind of theatrical darkness about it, as befits a record about a Victorian church with a basement filled with bodies. This isn’t black-thrash that’s filled with hate, as some practitioners of the genre peddle; instead, it’s all about how fun the genre (and extreme metal as a whole) can be, revelling in the absurdities of riffs played loud and fast, with drums like a stampede and demonic vocals. It’s a jolt of energy, where the slightly progressive nature of the song-writing ensures the EP stays interesting after the initial rush of energy has worn off.

Enon Chapel is out now. Purchase here.

Words: Stuart Wain


Herod – Sombre Dessein

Flying the flag for Switzerland’s increasingly potent scene, Vevey-based extremists Herod are perhaps the most thrilling prospect to emerge from the Swiss underground for some time. Simultaneously fresh-faced and ferocious, the four-piece teeter on the divide between ultra-modern tech-metal and uncompromising post-Meshuggah thud, the precision-tooled brutality of their sophomore full-length Sombre Dessein displaying a band early in their career who, quite remarkably, already sound like the finished article.

Tracks such as ‘Fork Tongue’ and ‘Reckoning’ are surging metallic hammer blows, each a ruthless blend of polyrhythmic clout and lurching, low-slung menace, whereas ‘Silent Truth’ delivers an adrenaline pumping dose of turbo-charged complexity and bludgeoning, Gojira-eque groove. Indeed, the record plays out like a head on collision of contemporary ideas, jarring tempo shifts and touches of sci-fi squall sitting alongside the likes of ‘Mourning Grounds’, which harbours the sort of textural depth and soaring melodies usually reserved for Tesseract et al’s artful approach.

It’s all incredibly assured stuff, the band belying any notion of “second album syndrome” with a songwriting maturity and instrumental skill to put many of their peers, and indeed forebears, in the shade. Fans of cutting-edge violence would do well not to sleep on Sombre Dessein, the record proving to be an intricate and skull-crackingly heavy piece of work, and confirming Herod as an annoying clever bunch.

Sombre Dessein is out now on Pelagic Records. Purchase here.

Words: Tony Bliss


Endon – Boy Meets Girl

Sometimes, a record is so loud and red-raw that it has you checking that your speakers aren’t broken and, yes, it is meant to sound that way. Such is the case with Boy Meets Girl from Endon. Consisting of vocals (well, screams), guitar, drums, and two members credited with “electronics/noise”, the sounds on Boy Meets Girl give credibility to the press release’s claim that Endon are Tokyo’s most extreme band. This is loud and noisy – and yet it’s not without charm. Sure, it’s can be as abrasive as Merzbow or The Boredoms at their most obnoxious, but there’s moments that contain mountain-levelling riffs, especially on the second half of the album.

‘Love Amnesia’ is like if the Melvins decided to make a noise record, but still keep their tar-drenched riffs at the fore; ‘Final Acting Out’ and ‘Not For You’ marry the guitar heroics of Japanese garage rock/psychedelia bands like High Rise with punk rock aggression; and ‘Red Shoes’ is zoned out in the same sort of smoky haze that Boris have been known to conjure. Album centrepiece ‘Doubts As A Source’ is a colossus, with lumbering doom riffs, hyperventilating vocals, and an aura of apocalyptic devastation that, at almost twelve minutes in length, demonstrates Endon at their most damaged. It’s hardly a welcoming album, but that’s the point: Boy Meets Girl makes most so-called “extreme” bands sound completely tame.

Boy Meets Girl is out now on Thrill Jockey. Purchase here.

Words: Stuart Wain


Skaeckoedlan Eorþe

It’s wonderful to hear a band sing in their native language. When that language is Swedish and the album has a bespoke 1920’s sci-fi Lovecraftian mystery written just for it, you’re either staring at a monster of a record or a shivering, scabby dog. Luckily for Skaeckoedlan,  Eorþe is absolutely superb. Those familiar with the work of this ambitious outfit won’t be surprised that this album, which is due to be released as a double-vinyl effort, is a massive undertaking, with diversification, personality, and an expertly-handled production.

Utterly huge and yet capable of genteel delicacy (see the gigantic ‘Creature Of Doggerland’ and the opening of ‘Elfenbenssalarna’ respectively),  Eorþe is a gleaming, dredged-up leviathan of a album, genuinely engaging and vast to a fault. It’s heartwarming to see that the band who recorded the also-wicked Äppelträdet back in 2012 have upped their game this much. If you’re into doom, sci-fi, stoner, prog, or a huge fan of elegantly detailed melody, get this record. The packaging for this should be something else as it’s all in Swedish, and AN bets the story is amazing if you can understand it. Not to spoil the ending, but that’s a masterstroke as well. Brilliant.

Eorþe is out now on on Fuzzoramarecords. Purchase here.

Words: John Tron Davidson


Endorphins Lost – Seclusions

Continuing on from last year’s ear-bursting split with OSK and their 2016 LP Choose Your Way, Seclusions by Seattle-based Endorphins Lost is their contribution to this year’s soundtrack of global dysfunctionality. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of these guys; if you’re into bands like Northern Bastard, No Comment, Capitalist Casualties, Infest, Earth Control, Spazz, Crossed Out, Man Is The Bastard and Brainscraper then this will be right up your crusty dustbin, merging the genres of powerviolence, hardcore and grindcore into a ferocious ménage à trois of abrasive hatred, aggression and rage driven angst.

Returning to Earhammer Studios in Oakland California for this record, the LP has been recorded, mixed and mastered by their previous sound engineer Greg Wilkinson whose production credits include the likes of Iron Lung, Vastum, Necrot, Brainoil, Deathgrave and Graves At Sea.  A suitable metaphor for this listening experience would be sticking your head in a well oiled woodchipper, only with excellent production value – every blastbeat can be heard smoothly balanced against the rest of the band. The album is as consistent as a cacophony of steel-capped boots to the eardrums but notable tracks demonstrating their skill at genre splicing are ‘Nothing Beyond The Fire’, ‘Seclusions’ and ‘Two Minutes Hate’.

Seclusions is out tomorrow on From The Head Of Zeus records. Purchase here.

Words: Josh Langford Coxon


Gets Worse – Snubbed

Combining infectious energy and menacing breakdowns, Leeds powerviolence quartet Gets Worse return with their latest instalment of hardcore and grind-infused fury.

Opener ‘Empty Tank’ sets the tone for the album perfectly, with a heavy-as-concrete groove and fuzzed-out bass bolstering the growled vocals to arresting effect before the song gives way to a raging punk beat midway through as the lyrics are spat furiously over the top. Similarly, ‘Hamster Food’ and ‘Awkwardly Close’ are excellent demonstrations of how the band play around with different time signatures and riffs, cramming as much piss and vinegar into less than a minute as they possibly can. Each song carries an earworm amidst the manic energy, though, and it’s a testament to the band’s talents as to just how tight they sound – it’s chaotic, but it’s never sloppy. This is extremely aggressive music played with precision, integrity and skill and it’s all the more powerful for it. Drummer Rich in particular is outstanding throughout, with ‘Rest in Schromph’ showcasing how he can go from a simple groove to blastbeat-infused punk fury in the blink of an eye. Indeed, a lot more of this album is given over to the faster paced side of their music compared to their last release Blacked Out, giving the album a sense of urgency.

Snubbed is brutally heavy at times and songs constantly change pace and mutate, yet it somehow remains accessible and addictive. With each new release Gets Worse are proving themselves to be a standout name in their genre.

Snubbed is out now on Dead Heroes. Purchase here.

Words: Adam Pegg


Old Wvrms – Codex Tenebris

Hailing from Belgium, Old Wvrms are a constantly evolving musical entity that bridges the gaps between both different musical genres and the material/esoteric realms. Having previously parted ways with their vocalist before their last release, Ignobolis, which was a head-turner of sludge-drenched post-metal, on this latest album Codex Tenebris the band present a straight-up instrumental masterpiece of doom, sludge, black and post-metal cooked up in a witches cauldron. Fans of Emperor, Cult Of Luna, Primordial, Deathspell Omega, Batushka and The Axis Of Pedition will find familiar elements albeit ones simmered smoothly together into a hypnotic and original record. It’s impossible not to mention the sheer quality of the production which is a trip in itself – for a three piece this is a cavernously huge sonic achievement.

Weaving together spectral variations on melodies and themes that metamorphosize in and out of themselves like hallucinating ternary forms from a chaos magic ritual. The five labyrinthine songs of apt length take the listener on a psychedelic occult journey that has an insidiously strong dynamic range between pulsating propulsive dark riffs and ethereally mystical sections of building up tension with lighter elements. Though this feels like a record to be listened to in its entirety, the highlight track is the finale, ‘Fléau est son âme’, which concludes the evolution of the expertly wrought out atmosphere of inconsolable emptiness. If this is an example of their current expertise at entwining so many genres together effortlessly then we could be in for an even bigger surprise than this next time around, though this is going to be hard to beat as there isn’t a fault to be found.

Codex Tenebris is out now on Cursed Monk Records. Purchase here.

Words: Josh Langford Coxon


Arnold & Edo – Faversham

The result of a live improvisation between duo Leighton Arnold and Mauri Edo, here edited into five separate tracks, Faversham is a haunting, captivating listen. A backdrop of static-laced dark ambient sets the scene, overlain with sparse guitar passages, ominous bass drones, and field recordings that lend the music a post-human aura. As with the best dark ambient, there is the hint of humanity here, clinging on to a denied existence – the tolling of distant church bells; the hint of a melody carried on the breeze; the creak of structures, both physical and social, gradually collapsing under their own weight. Or, perhaps, of post-humanity, as suggested by many of nature-based field recordings and the damaged industrial sounds on tracks such as ‘Currents’, or the stuttering footstep-esque sounds on ‘Forest Outpost’.

And yet, there is something almost soothing about Faversham. The drones and dark ambient soundscapes are hypnotic, and those sections of melody and conventional music can lull the listener into a sense of near-relaxation. Whilst it would be inaccurate to describe it as accessible or welcoming, Faversham is as close as dark ambient can be to either description.

Faversham is out now on Chemical Imbalance. Purchase here.

Words: Stuart Wain

Liked it? Take a second to support Astral Noize on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!