ALBUM REVIEW: Yatra – Blood of the Night

Yatra‘s 2018 début album Death Ritual (Grimoire Records), rather than being a “grower”, receded in appeal due to the unflinching harshness of their slow, Doom-laden sound and the voice of Dana Helmuth, which sounds as if Gaahl had been gargling on hop-bombs. There were flickers of invention in the Maryland trio’s sound, however, and these are further explored in follow-up Blood of the Night (STB Records). Continue reading

Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts

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The old adage is that there is no true substitute for experience. While for the young and easily impressionable tend to view that sentiment as trite, it rings mightily true for Katatonia on their 10th studio album, The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville). Over twenty years of masterful work are on display over the course of 12 new compositions in which hardly a moment feels out-of-place or without purpose.

All of the familiar elements from Katatonia’s previous works are present, ranging from the doom/death of songs like ‘Serac’ and ‘Sanction’ to numbers dripping with weariness and melancholy such as in ‘Old Heart Falls.’ Take note young musicians, you don’t have to always aim to reshape the genre. Sometimes just a strongly honed craft and sound songwriting chops are all that is needed.

Need an example on how to appreciate these Swedes’ proficiency? Check out how Jonas Renkse’s dusky vocals interplay so well with the serpentine guitar work on ‘Takeover.’ And notice how said flowing guitars work their way seamlessly right into ‘Serein.’ Much praise to veteran guitarist and producer Anders Nyström and recently added Tiamat axeman Roger Öjersson for their precise and lush fretwork.

But it’s not just a guitar showcase and subtle elements such as new drummer Daniel Moilanen’s slight yet echoing cymbal and footwork add much more dimension to ‘The Night Subscriber’ and ‘Passer.’ Mixing and mastering were of course handled by veteran engineer Jens Bogren to ensure maximum aural richness and clarity.

The Fall of Hearts’ greatest strength is in its precision and economy of song. Lesser outfits would have buckled under the weight of gothic miasma or overindulgence. Author Malcolm Gladwell argues that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Katatonia have obviously put in their time.

8.5/10

HANSEL LOPEZ

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Indesinence – III

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Boasting members from illustrious UK acts such as Fen, Binah and Code, London doom/death dealers Indesinence are packing a pretty impressive line-up. Having been lurking in the shadows of the underground for nearly fifteen years now, their previous two records Noctambulism (Goat of Mendes) in 2006 and Vessels of Light and Decay six years later won numerous plaudits but were too far under the radar for most people to take notice of the ominous darkness contained within. Third record, the imaginatively titled III (both Profound Lore) is unlikely to win many new admirers, but for those who already dwell in the shadows, it’s a welcome treat.

While most doom/death acts are content to rip off My Dying Bride and hope the listeners are too miserable to notice, Indesinence have their own clearly defined sound; one that uplifts as well as bruises, with shades of dappled light amidst the stygian gloom. They’re still slaves to the lengthy track however as songs evolve over several minutes, with riffs unfurling languidly to strike at their own pace, while the stark, pounding drumbeats batter the listener into submission.

First track proper ‘Nostalgia’ is appropriately titled, for it calls to mind the sheer bleakness of US masters Evoken, as the devastatingly sad lead guitar work provides the perfect counterfoil to the gut-punching of the rhythm section. ‘Embryo Limbo’ sets the scene with some stately clean-picked notes before giving way to some crushing riffs that flirt with mid-paced mid-90s death metal, like Incantation after a heavy dose of lithium.

The first real burst of pace occurs on ‘Desert Trail’ with brisk blastbeats and strange melodies contributing to a strong feeling of malaise but the best is saved for the end of the album as the tortuous crawl of ‘Mountains of Mind/Five Years Ahead (Of My Time)’ soon gives way to a frantic chugging section, aided by eerie keyboards before a gloriously exuberant solo emerges from the mire and it becomes apparent that the band have wandered into full-on dark prog territory. The triumphant end-section is worth the price of the whole album.

Most bands would call it a day there, but Indesinence decide that things need to remain grim, which they do with aplomb on the seventeen minute dirge of ‘Strange Meridian’, an oppressive crawl through agonized soundscapes. The riffs are depressing, the vocals are truly anguished and were it not for another burst of soaring lead-guitar to end things again on a breathless, stargazing note, the whole thing might get too much. There really is no need to tack on a ten minute dark ambient closing track to finish things off though.

A difficult and undeniably too-long album, III is nonetheless a masterful and imposing piece of work. Doom/death is a naturally restrictive genre, but Indesinence have proven themselves to be one of the finest acts working in its field. Full-on misery can often get a bit one-note without some other forces to counteract the despair, and there are enough ideas going on here to ensure that even for an album approaching eighty minutes in length, attention will be maintained and engaged. The heirs to Disembowelment? Why not, eh?

 

8.0/10

 

JAMES CONWAY

Cathedral – In Memoriam 2015

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When doom metal legends Cathedral finally called it a day in 2013, there was much sadness but also a great outpouring of gratitude for the music recorded in their twenty-three year career as titans of the doom scene. A thoroughly British institution with a penchant for eccentricities, the quartet would in later years branch into stoner and prog territory, but their birth in 1990, with vocalist Lee Dorrian having decided that life in Napalm Death wasn’t for him, came at a time when doom/death was in its infancy; and it was that sound, or rather a more traditional doom one that Cathedral would go for on their first demo In Memoriam. First re-issued in 1999, the time is now right to re-visit this first effort, again via Dorrian’s own Rise Above Records, and, with the benefit of hindsight, appreciate how bloody good Cathedral were.

Opening track ‘Mourning of a New Day’ is slow, ponderous and menacing, demonstrating the power of taking it slowly at a time when the rest of the world wanted to play as fast as possible. The guitar tone is stark and heavy, Lee Dorrian’s vocals are guttural and a tad awkward, and the whole thing seems drenched in a miasma of pain and sorrow with tales of vampire suns and Witchfinder Generals nowhere to be seen. A suitably downbeat cover of Pentagram’s classic ‘All Your Sins’ follows with all the hippie vibe stripped away before a grimly powerful early cut of ‘Ebony Tears’ rears its head. Final track ‘March’, a joyless, militaristic number doesn’t really go anywhere and would have been a better fit for industrial legends Godflesh, also newbies at that stage.

The live tracks, recorded in Europe in 1991 show a young band with a fiercely professional outlook and a tight, devastatingly weighty sound. The first three tracks of the demo are replicated here along with forgotten classic ‘Neophytes for the Serpent’s Eve’ from the band’s second demo and a gut-wrenching version of Forest of Equilibrium (Earache) classic ‘Intro/Commiserating the Celebration.’ Dorrian’s stage banter is polite and to the point and while the muffled cheers from the audience hint at Cathedral’s limited appeal in the early days, their skill and power was never in doubt.

A timely reminder of where it all began, when four miserable lads from Coventry decided to replicate the grimness of their surroundings and in doing so created one of the most important bands in the history of underground music. We are poorer for having lost them but with classic re-issues such as In Memoriam, their legacy will live on forever.

 

8.0/10

 

JAMES CONWAY

Soulburn – The Suffocating Darkness

 

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While anyone with a passing interest in Death Metal will most likely own a copy of Asphyx’s 1991 classic debut album The Rack only the most devoted of fans will have kept track of the various break-ups and splits the band has endured since then. For the uninitiated, Soulburn were formed by ex-Asphyx alumni Bob Bagchus and Eric Daniels in 1997 along with Pentacle singer Wanns Gubbels to record Feeding on Angels after their parent band disbanded. Rebranding themselves as Asphyx didn’t prevent them from splitting again in 2000. Reuniting again last year, the latest incarnation of the band have decided to once again indulge their love for Bathory and Venom along with old school Doom and Death Metal. Thankfully their long awaited sophomore record The Suffocating Darkness (all Century Media) is worth the wait.

After a cheesy faux-Satanic intro, the grim, mid-paced riffing of ‘Under the Rise of a Red Moon’ and ‘The Mirror Void’ are suitably diabolic reminders that the members know how to wield power with atmosphere, with the thrashy breakout of the latter especially raising the hackles with its primal energy. With a variety of styles competing for attention and the members seemingly unbothered over which camp to pitch their tent in, we are left with a set of thoroughly enjoyable metal workouts that should raise the horns from fans of all the aforementioned genres. The guitar tone in particular is dense and all-consuming, giving the likes of  black/death hybrid ‘Hymn of the Forsaken II’ a menacing feel while the drawn-out, apocalyptic horror of ‘I Do Not Bleed From Your Crown of Thorns’ is Doom/Death at its most crushing.

Given the history of the band, it doesn’t take a cynic to wonder how long Soulburn will be around. But if the strength of the material on The Suffocating Darkness is an indication of things to come, it would be wise to keep an eye on these Dutch masters.

 

7.5/10

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JAMES CONWAY