Mono – Nowhere Now Here
The term ‘post-metal’ was once synonymous with the term ‘experimental metal’, but in the few decades since its inception it has become evermore like a more traditional subgenre, complete with perceived boundaries that some hesitate to cross. 20 years on from their formation, Japan’s Mono are still operating on a plain that ignores the notion of genre boundaries altogether. Their tenth full-length dropped back in January, and it’s taken this writer this long to process his thoughts on an album that’s grander, more varied and bolder than perhaps anything the band have put their name to thus far.
Nowhere Now Here is indicative of a band who have honed their talents and arrive now fully armed and without constraint. It is a coming together of lightness and darkness that’s so intensely evocative that it feels almost enlightening – it’s cliche to say an album needs to be heard in full, but this certainly does. Great art can capture what it means to be human, but it can also help us transcend our mundane reality. This does both. It is a rich and transcendent voyage through a variety of different inspirations that come together as one singular entity to fulfil a common goal.
Nowhere Now Here is out now on Pelagic Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Holy Fawn – Death Spells
On 2018 album Death Spells, now receiving a vinyl release via Holy Roar, the talent of Arizona’s Holy Fawn lays in their ability to blend genres, with elements of post-rock, shoegaze and slight touches of black metal and post-hardcore fusing together so seamlessly. Whilst these elements could easily be used to describe a wave of bands in the wake of Deafheaven and Alcest, Holy Fawn sound like neither, only using blastbeats and throat shredding at very select and sparing moments to enhance some of the more intense moments in their music.
Death Spells is a triumph of textured, multi-faceted compositions that ebb and flow majestically.
Full of ambition and depth, Death Spells is really not the kind of album you can listen to once or twice and come away with a strong impression. It has plenty of subtle and murky depths that need to be felt rather than just heard, working their way into the listener’s subconscious over repeat listens. Holy Fawn exist closer to the influences of Sigur Rós and Cocteau Twins. They’ve created an album full of beauty and raw emotions; and just like a fawn, this Arizona band are still only finding their feet…
Death Spells is out now on Holy Roar. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Louise Lemón – A Broken Heart Is An Open Heart
The contemporary movement some are referring to as “death gospel” is one of the most creative new sounds to captivate the attention of the metal world. Heavy emotionally if not always musically, it has seen the likes of Chelsea Wolfe and Anna von Hausswolff release stunning albums that ended up on countless end-of-year lists, and last year it saw Louise Lemón release Purge LP, an extended version of the preceding EP of the same name. Just a year later, second LP A Broken Heart Is An Open Heart (produced and mixed alongside Randall Dunn) is similarly reliant on open-hearted and poignant musings on love and life.
Lemón’s soulful voice packs hefty emotional weight, and is capable of drifting from intimate croons to overwhelming wails at a moment’s notice. Her remarkable range is inevitably the star of the show, but the music behind it is also effective. Unanchored to pop traditionalism, it is more concerned with building lustrous soundscapes than catchy melodies, and as such is capable of building a mood upon which the singer’s performance can truly shine. Notably, however, the music is more experimental here, ranging from hypnotic psych-rock to mournful soul, and thus more able to stand on its own two feet without Lemón’s vocal presence – ‘Susceptible Soul’ in particular is a wonderfully captivating piece of free-form instrumental. This is a bewitching listen capable of being both saccharine and harrowing. It’s well worth your time.
A Broken Heart Is An Open Heart is out now on Icons Creating Evil Art. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Totaled – Lament
The weirdest thing about this isn’t that there’s a genre called blackened hardcore (these two demographics have gotta be the true chalk and cheese of the alternate shouty smash smash music scene), it’s that it insidiously creeps in between the two without the listener really noticing. This is not the expected roaring satanic proclamations with a clear switch into a classic two-step arm-waving slug fest (okay it does that once or twice and frankly it’s brilliant) – it’s actually a lot cleverer than that.
More often than not you find yourself getting lost in the white noise wall of sound, before realising that while keeping the tone the same the rhythmic elements are switching up, a genuine crossbreed sound that shows real thought put into this melding of musical motives.
It would be better to call this hardcored black rather than blackened hardcore as the focus lies heavily on black metal elements, with the hardcore playing an important but more intermittent role.
Vocals sound like someone choking on beelzebub’s dry nut sack so no complaints there. The whole idea of this makes me think of what Chaos Space Marines would listen to after falling to the warp, like this exact shit.
Plenty of old lore demonology mixed in with a bit of “I’ll punch your teeth out the back of your head”.
Lament is out now on Profound Lore. Purchase here.
Words: James Clarke
Zeal & Ardor – Live In London
Live albums are a often a bit of a farce. Songs you know and love played inaccurately and recorded poorly are often unable to truly capture the spirit of a live show. And yet, they can also be damn-right transcendent, capturing the energy of a band on world-beating form or the passion of a crowd of loyal fans. Zeal & Ardor’s live shows have come a long way since founder Manuel Gagneux first enlisted a roster of musicians, so much so that this writer would go so far as to say there’s few out there that could rival them. Though the band have previously hinted at the potential a live album could posses on the far shorter Live In Montreux vinyl release, Live In London, recorded during the band’s December 2018 tour, features a glorious 22 tracks and 80 minutes of blackened blues mayhem.
The subtle but unavoidable alterations that come with the live setting – the crowd clapping and cheering, mic reverb, slight nuances in the vocal and instrumental performances – infuse the ritualistic nature of the band’s multifaceted music with an authenticity that makes it all the more exhilarating. The various elements of their sound, from the more emotive tones of ‘Hold Your Head Low’ and ‘We Never Fall’ to the thrilling bouts of blackened extremity and the infinitely catchy blues, feel indisputably real. Refrains like “the riverbed will run red with the blood of the saints and the blood of the holy” and “don’t you dare look away, boy” swirl menacingly in a thrilling haze of pseudo-nihilism, leaving you and Gagneux breathless in equal measure. As the metallic moments – played ruthlessly but with clarity in lieu of the overwhelming distortion some bands utilise in a misguided attempt to sound heavier – explode in a malevolent maelstrom of pure venom, the vitriol is palpable.
Live In London is out now on MVKA. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Dis Fig – PURGE
Felicia Chen, aka Dis Fig, arrives with her first full-length on New York label Purple Tape Pedigree – known for its genre-bending flirtations with the shadows of rap, techno, industrial, black metal and more (read our interview with label-head Geng / King Vision Ultra here). Having created a considerable buzz with DJ sets that meld a lot of those sounds to a dancefloor setting, on PURGE Chen moves away from the club and into her own head – and yours too – enacting a digital exorcism of “the feelings which you have been avoiding”. Summoning forth harsh noise that rears its head fully by the second track, ‘Alive’, this is electronic music that mostly shrugs off the shackles of tempo, rhythm and metre, opting instead to construct soundscapes that induce feelings of dread, but also release and catharsis.
Throughout the record, her tracks’ chaotic energy is engaged in a constant struggle with more tender and mournful elements. Where there are vocals, the words are largely inaudible, and operate instead on the level of feeling, sounding closer to incantations. A resolution of sorts is found on penultimate track ‘WHY’ – the purge referenced in the album’s title seemingly complete – but by the final track, ‘I Am The Tree’, the sense of dread has returned, revealing the process at work here to be cyclical, seasonal, eternal and endless. This feels like a deeply personal project, an album that has been carefully constructed with meaning and purpose, demanding to be listened to in its entirety and resisting the algorithmically dictated culture of streaming playlists.
PURGE is out now on Purple Tape Pedigree. Purchase here.
Words: Alex McFadyen
Body Void – You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us
Doom is a genre sometimes synonymous with bong hits and accessible grooves, but it’s also intensely capable of capturing the essence of a physical or mental fight like no other. Sludge, doom’s grittier brother, can dial this up to eleven, and Bay Area trio Body Void utilise this element of the genre flawlessly. Living in 2019 means suffering through anxiety-inducing political upheavals, inequality, the rise of neo-fascism and a rich-poor divide that seems to engorge like a black hole, constantly taking and only getting bigger as a result – some raw sludge taking hefty swings at the alt-right and rapists is certainly apt.
You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us is suitably dingy, oozing in the thickest black tar, sticking to your skin and dragging you into a mural painted with only the darkest of palettes. There’s little in the way of salvation. Will Ryan’s tortured screeches set the tone, but the instrumentation behind them is the star of the show, making lengthy tracks fly by thanks to perfectly executed shifts in tempo and dynamics. With I Live Inside A Burning House, Body Void tackled harsh realities through heaving sludge, You Will Know… is more of the same, with the quality control kept to a remarkably high, perhaps even higher, standard.
You Will Know The Fear You Forced Upon Us is out now on Dry Cough Records (UK) and Crown and Throne Ltd (US). Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Matmos – Plastic Anniversary
For 25 years now, Matmos have travelled beyond the furthest barriers in the spectrum of music, and they have now marked it with one of their strongest and most realised albums to date, Plastic Anniversary. On the surface, this is an extremely good glitch record, combining the playfulness of Venetian Snares with the radical beat programming of Aphex Twin. But on closer inspection, most of the sounds heard on this album are recordings of effects-treated household plastic items (as hinted at by the cover). Matmos combine two of the greatest conceptual minds in avant-garde music, Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt, and the duo have outdone themselves once again. Lest we forget, their previous album Ultimate Care II consisted only of recordings from their washing machine!
Whether it’s the Plaid-esque bounce of ‘Silicone Gel Implant’ or the haunting and menacing acid comedown of ‘The Crying Pill’, Plastic Anniversary is an album that is only synthetic on a literal level, but actually evokes many striking moods, a colourful sound pallet, and twitching twists and turns on every track. Matmos’ meticulous sound design continues to be off the stratosphere, creating a fluent, immersive record that will delight beat-heads, ravers and chin-strokers alike!
Plastic Anniversary is out now on Thrill Jockey. Purchase here.
Words: Chris “Frenchie” French
Moloch – Love Songs
If last year’s A Bad Place showed anything, it’s that Moloch are perhaps the best purveyors of stifling sludge this side of the Atlantic. Whilst that fantastically imposing LP wallowed in the darker side of the human psyche, Love Songs is a more confrontational beast, oozing in misery but also rage. The vocals here are snarling yells instead of anguished cries, whilst the guitars churn menacingly, bolstered by weighty percussion as they drive forward in a maelstrom of gargantuan riffs and impenetrable fuzz that burrows into your ear canal and then turns the screw for maximum impact.
As the EP spirals deeper into some frightful abyss, it takes a heavy toll physically and mentally, climaxing in the cacophonous final minutes of closer ‘Takotsubo’, which will leave you deaf, dumb and winded. If A Bad Place is akin to Steve McQueen’s thoughtful drama Shame from which it derives its name and artwork, then Love Songs is a psychological horror, delighting in its ability to leave your mind in tatters and your body in pieces.
Love Songs is out now on Feast Of Tentacles. Purchase here.
Word: George Parr
Darja Kazimira & Dagmar Gertot – Death Of The Bull
Death Of The Bull is a collaborative album between Latvian Darja Kazimira and Russian Dagmar Gertot, which explores the fertility cults and funerary rituals of the Balkans and Ancient Greece.
Very much like Phurpa, the project is steeped in academic research and study, with a solid foundation of musical and classical archaeology, religious studies, mythology, philosophy and thanatology to name a few. This gives the tracks a care and respect that a lot of other musicians should take notice of and learn from.
The album’s eleven tracks comprise a enthralling journey that feels like you’re unlocking long stored historical practices – it’s easy to see why label Aurora Borealis has hailed this release their “most challenging to date”, as the concept is as esoteric as it is dense.
What initially draws you in is the vocals. Front and centre for the majority of the album, they showcase a plethora of ethnic vocal traditions and practices that layer and jostle for a position as the primary sound, creating an intense tribal landscape that envelops you and forces you to listen almost against your will. This, coupled with the heavy addition of various horns off in the distance, means you are overcome with a sense of foreboding and malaise, with the album creating new mythical worlds in your head throughout this intense pilgrimage.
There is a lot to this record which can’t be explained in so few words but it is one of the records which really doesn’t qualify as music in the traditional sense – it’s something entirely different. It is an ethno-musical odyssey that we have somehow been invited to. A truly awe-inspiring project and sure to be one of the musical highlights of this year for us at Astral Noize.
Death Of The Bull is out now on Aurora Borealis Recordings. Purchase here.
Words: Tom Kirby
Myoora – Moon Grotto
Musical maestros Daniel Nesci & Daniel Pinto are the two young (16 and 22, respectively) and remarkably creative musicians behind this new prog rock/metal project out of Sydney, Australia. Musically complex but not quite to the point of pomposity, this three-track EP features no shortage of thrillingly inventive guitar-work, most notably on ‘Asphalt & Absolution’, which whips back and forth at breakneck speeds, often moving onto the next captivating idea before you’ve had a chance to digest the last one.
Atmospherics sprinkled here and there, as well as a mere hint of vocals on ‘Asphalt & Absolution’, hint at the grander possibilities the band’s obvious talent could lead to. Indeed, the band’s skills don’t lie only in impressively fast guitar-work, and though they’re more than capable of dialling up the complexity to eleven, they’re also capable of restraint. There’s moments of more straitlaced rock and some accessible grooves on opener ‘Divulge’, whilst the title-track closer is altogether more emotive, building more gradually to a masterful guest solo from Stephen Taranto of The Helix Nebula. It’s the first time we get to hear the band’s epic potential more fully realised, rather than the mishmash of ideas the EP sometimes feels like. Comprising just twelve minutes of material, Moon Grotto does what it needs to in showing off to the world what the band are capable of. The same level of musicality spread over a full-length could be a truly world-beating addition to the prog genre, so keep an eye on these two.
Moon Grotto is out now. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
HELM – Creeper
How you open a record is crucial. In the case of Canada’s HELM, opening Creeper with a bloke crying over how good his weed is sets the stall out quite firmly. If you’re expecting lots of shuffling, twelth-fret riffs and half-time open-hi-hat activity, you’ve guessed correctly, but don’t write off this green-coated journey just yet. HELM cover a fair old bit of ground, with vocals reminiscent of late Canuck hardcore legends Cursed via Weedeater, and a refreshingly clean production. The drummer is giving it loads, and although the band let things get away from them at times, it’s in a hyper-tense, highly charming manner. Nowhere is this more evident than on ‘Speed Dragon’, where HELM tear into the whole tune with blazed abandon. It almost seems a shame to term this as stoner rock – it really is, but of a high (pun intended) calibre. If Grand Magus, latter-day Eyehategod, Horizon, Alabama Thunderpussy and Scissorfight are roaming around your record collection, it would be a genuine sin not to add these guys to it, especially as there’s more than enough in here to warrant your bong-addled investigation. Creeper is more than a solid record, it’s full of character. Nice.
Creeper is out now. Download here.
Words: John Tron Davidson
Vile Creature – Preservation Rituals
Comprising nine tracks with an average length of roughly thirteen minutes, Vile Creature’s debut release on Prosthetic Records is a definitive journey through the duo’s first few years. Spanning two CDs, the compilation highlights the band’s talent for heaving doom with a poignant edge. Indeed, these songs can be as emotionally heavy as they are musically, with the three cuts taken from 2015’s A Steady Descent Into Soil proving as eager to wallow in lamenting guitars full of evocative power as they are confrontational riffs and vitriolic vocals.
Closing the first disc, ‘A Pessimistic Doomsayer’, taken from the 2016 EP of the same name, unfurls gradually over eighteen minutes, beginning slowly with beguiling clean vocals before morphing into a raw expression of pure catharsis. It is undoubtedly one of the band’s finest and most ambitious works, but last year’s concept LP A Cast Of Static And Smoke, which fills Preservation Ritual’s second disc, is surely their piece-de-resistance thus far. Building a post-apocalyptic world, it tells a tale of robots seemingly doomed to repeat the mistakes of those who made them. And yet, it is an album filled with a very human sense of pain and despair. The most notable change here is the inclusion of an audiobook of the short story that the album is based on, allowing the listener a chance to ponder the record’s themes of self-will, war and the cyclical nature of oppression.
Over the three releases that comprise this release, Vile Creature have become one of the most vital names in contemporary metal, boasting some of the most creative sludge ever released whilst promoting progressive politics. If Preservation Ritual is to be considered the band’s first chapter, then we can’t wait for the next one.
Preservation Rituals is out now on Prosthetic Records. Purchase here.
Words: George Parr
Remorse – Inward
Drearily dissonant and abysmally atonal, the debut release from Remorse is a promising first glimpse at a project that’s unafraid of diving headfirst into cacophonous, overwhelming metal of the harshest variety. At its heart, Inward is bleak sludge, but an atypical approach to the genre’s usual fuzz sees bouts of harsh noise thrown at the listener, often overlapping the inharmonious riffs and weighty programmed drums.
Opener ‘Burden’ begins the release fantastically. Kicking off on false pretences, it features light strumming that bursts into a veritable onslaught of raucous noise just as the listener begins to notice an unsettling disquiet in what first appears to be a rather innocent intro. It’s a thrilling start to what is largely a strong but somewhat one-note track, before the three remaining tracks try their darndest to rip you limb-from-limb. Closer ‘Vulnerable’ is particularly stifling, with a short intro so oppressive you’ll be genuinely glad when it finishes and scared to hear it again on repeated listens, and shifting dynamics that make it the most interesting number on the release. All in all, Inward is a truly impressive debut from a project worth keeping an eye on.
Inward is out now. Download here.
Words: George Parr