This month’s Under the Surface has us traveling from the familiar trappings of Manchester, New Hampshire all the way to London, Scandinavia and the heart of Southeast Asia. The mission as always is the pursuit of the latest and greatest in unsigned or undiscovered heavy music.
I start not too far from home, with New Hampshire’s At the Heart of It. The challenge, particularly in the New England area, is finding a way to stand out in a crowded hardcore scene. You can’t swing a dead cat in Boston without hitting 14 bands cannibalizing each other’s sound. With their self-titled EP, At the Heart of It found a way to stand out. And the here’s the catch what helps separate them is not their aggression, but the more quiet moments like in ‘Create/Sustain’ and ‘This World Has Teeth.’ The vocals are so pained that I just want to buy the band a cup of coffee and tell them that things will get better soon. But not too soon, I’m really digging this sound. 8.0/10
Next is Abodean Skye and their new LP Echoes of an Astral Empire. This UK trio are the type of band that gladly remind you that it’s hip to be square as proven by singing that would make Geoff Tate, soaring melodies and keyboard runs that wouldn’t feel out of place in a vintage Final Fantasy game. Then you have song titles like ‘Battle of Tears’ and ‘Return of the Fleet.” And that kind of nerd cred isn’t a knock, either. Echoes is a very fun album, particularly if you have a sweet tooth for histrionics and bands like the underrated Cellador.
Sure at 55 minutes it can feel a bit lengthy, but it seems like epic was the MO here. And while on the subject of epic, I would’ve liked the production to have a little more pop to it. The mix here is serviceable, but the compositions could’ve used a little more energy to them. It’s a quest worth venturing. 7.0/10
Keeping with that same nerd enthusiasm is Helsinki, Finland’s Tulitera. Seriously, that cover art is probably the geekiest thing I’ve ever seen and I collect Batman comics. But this instrumental collective is so much more than their art suggests. Move past Tulikaste’s crude sword illustrations and you will find a very sophisticated and ambitious sound. Fans of Tesseract will feel right at home with songs like ‘Voidborn’ and ‘Firedew’ has sweeping synths that sound like something that Vangelis forgot to use in Blade Runner. And while ‘Firedew’ is one the album’s highlights it illustrates that much like Abodean Skye, Tulitera let the songs run for a little longer than expected. Case in point, ‘Percolator’ feels less like an introduction and more like 3 minutes of nothing.
And I can already hear you shouting “but Hans, this progressive metal, it’s supposed to have longer songs.” Yes and no. If the riffs are there then go for that 14 minute Between the Buried and Me musical freakout. If not, then trim it and get your point across a lot faster. But given that this is a debut LP it’s a flaw that can be overlooked. 8.0/10
And since we’re on the subject of longer songs why not talk about the Burning Water split EP between Philipino sludge acts Death After Birth and Surrogate Prey. How do I put this? One of these bands has a promising future and other does not. I take it they haven’t been around long, but Death After Birth really shit the bed with their half of the recording. They slog by checking off all the traditional doom and sludge checkboxes with a sound that only can be described as basement quality. It’s like Crowbar, but without the riffs or Kirk Windstein or the great guitar tone. However, Surrogate Prey sound like they know a thing or two about playing low and slow. ‘Crevianitus’ is soul crushingly heavy and memorable and ‘Banquet of the Beasts’ has a breakdown the size of Alaska. Surrogate Prey save the day here. 6.0/10
And to wrap things up we have another split EP, Irk | Wren, featuring the British talents of Irk and Wren respectively. Irk storms out of the gate with a brand of noise highly reminiscent of fellow Brits, Fudge Tunnel and a vocal delivery that sounds like Jonathan Davis on Quaaludes. And tracks like ‘You Sound Like my Ex-Wife’ and ‘Cibo Per Gattini’ are some of the rare and very awesome instances where the bass is more prominent than the guitar. As good as Irk is, Wren steal the show with some of the heaviest post-metal goodness since Isis. If you’re still heartbroken over their breakup then Wren are more than willing to fill in that blank space in your life. Forget an EP, after listening to the atom smashing closer that is ‘An Approach’ I need a double LP. 9.0/10