Look, it’s as cold as a witch’s tit, and I’m not talking about the variety that likes PVC. With that in mind, here are seven attempts by the underground Metal scene to raise the temperature. As it were. (Come on, give me that one. I have an A-Level in English, and everything).
Carrion Mother – Nothing Remains (Ordo CM)
German droop group, Carrion Mother, joins a long line of other Doom Metal bands in its second full length, Nothing Remains (Ordo CM). That is, it’s yet another Doom release with only a few songs, all of them very long. Not that you can fault a band for refusing to suck up to the norms with anything under nine minutes. A spell on mainstream radio was probably never on their agenda to begin with.
What we can fault the band for, however, is its greatest sin – in a sense, having too much of a great thing. Yes, there’s much to commend here, and we’ll get onto that later, but the real problem with long, long songs is the risk that they either end up repeating themselves or overwhelming the listener. Nothing Remains, of course, is guilty of this only too plainly. It’s like waiting two hours for a really nice pizza. You get the pizza, but you also get the two-hour wait.
Which is a shame, because, time and time again, when they hid their stride, my goodness, this band crushes. All it takes is that occasional hook, that essential solo, those glorious riffs of raw steamroller and cosmos-fucking grandeur, and the slog suddenly becomes worth it. But then it goes back to being a slog again, alas. Let’s be generous and call this a warm-up for bigger things. 6 / 10
Leach – Hymns for the Hollow (Self-Released)
Leach sounds like a lot of other bands. It’s Heavy Rock with Metal, Hardcore, Thrash and Punk thrown in. It’s like The Haunted, if The Haunted were a bit pedestrian. Or Kvertelak, if you took out the Black Metal influences, and the shit second album.
Harsh? Yes, because that’s what this Swedish band’s new album, Hymns For The Hollow (Self-Released), pretty much amounts to. It’s not bad by any means, but there comes a point when you’ve heard your umpteenth faintly insipid number, that’s loud but still beige-bland, and you just can’t be arsed with any of it. Hymns… is an album always threatening to happen, but the threat is never realised, except for one moment, and we’ll deal with that in a minute. For the most part, it’s uninspired, to say the least.
Except for that one moment. ‘Framgångssagan’ is a focussed, pounding jaunt of joy. It bounds forth with a clear, strong simple riff and bounding beat. Stripped of all the nonsense, it sounds distinctive, original, alive. Did I mention it was the only song in the band’s native tongue? The rest of the album seems trapped in one of many straitjackets. In summary, it’s tepid porridge, which is still better than cold porridge, one supposes. 5 / 10
Pulchra Morte – Divina Autem Et Aniles (Ceremonial Records)
Let’s get one thing clear before we carry on from this point. American doomsters Pulchra Morte really love themselves some early Paradise Lost. Even the most cursory of listens screams Gothic and Lost Paradise on perma-rotation rather loudly. But as shown by PM’s full-length debut, Divina Autem Et Aniles (Ceremonial Records), or “Divine And Yet Of The Hag” for non-Latin speakers, they have added a certain US swagger and gleeful malice to the sound.
Doom connoisseurs will, of course, be drawn to the album’s standout tracks, like ‘Shadows From The Cross’ and ‘Soulstench’, with their sheen, polish and killer riffs. But what’s clear is that PM have an instinctive grasp of the groove, a way to entrance and engage the listener. The guitarmanship is deft and versatile. The song structures are varied and tight. It’s nasty and it’s having fun. Even the use of female vocals on two tracks, often a trapdoor leading to the shitpit of kitsch, is well handled and blended well with the rest of the music.
A cynic might point out here that the album breaks no new ground. Certainly, this is to be expected when you’re paying homage to the birth of Death/Doom (Doom/Death?). And it is true, nothing here is going to redefine the genre. But what is there is tried and tested, and rather good. 7 / 10
Surachai – Come Deathless (BL_K Noise)
It was really tempting to copy and paste BEEEPBEEEPSKREECHNEEEEEEG about 200 times and just call it a day. Alas, it’s never enough to point out that something’s rubbish, so let’s just go into slow, painful, excruciating, nay, tedious detail instead. So come with me now, into the latest album by LA-based Noise botherer, Surachai…
Come Deathless (BL_K Noise) is somehow the third release from this project, proving, if nothing else, that if good art often finds itself in shackles, bad art always finds a way, like a really persistent gnawing thing that probably spreads typhoid in its spare time.
An initial listen or twelve was informed by the deep need to find some meaning here, some deeper avant-garde truth being held just out of reach. Then, after three or four more listens, it becomes clear. This is just distorted pinging noises and ‘mood music’ ambience. It’s certainly crap.
That’s not to say random, screeching electronic noises are always a bad thing. But like Free Jazz and Noise Rock – or the work of howling mad geniuses like Noisem and Merzbow – it turns out that a random sonic barrage still requires skill and vision. You can’t fault Surachai for lack of enthusiasm, though. SKERREEERRRRRRCH! 3 / 10
Thetan – Abysmal (Anti-Corporate Music)
“Bullshit goes in and bullshit comes out”, blurts the final line in this album, by Nashville Hardcore twosome Thetan. That sounds like it’s tempting fate, as does the record’s title, Abysmal (Anti-Corporate Music), especially when sarcastic music hacks are on the loose. But it’s unfair to say the album is rubbish. It’s just a bit repetitive.
The Thetan formula is like so. Drums blast away like a kangaroo with a banger up its bum. Guitars squeal in pain. Singer shrieks as if on fire. So far, so good, but there are only so many times you can hear this, and the same two and a half chords, before boredom sets in. Most of the songs sound a bit too much alike. Oh, there’s tons of rage here, but – you guessed it – this signifies nothing. And it just carries on. And on. Ad nauseum. For eighteen tracks, seventeen minutes…
In its defense, Abysmal is animated by a genuine fury, but it’s an inarticulate, monotonous one which quickly outstays its welcome. Things suddenly get interesting midway, however, especially when ‘Singularity’ suddenly appears in the midst of the tedium. It has variety! Melodies! It’s actually catchy rather than dull! Its follow-up, ‘Welcome To Your Stupid Life’, carries on the winning streak in the form of a tight, focused instrumental. But then the album wanders back into the same-old racket, and that’s less bullshit in, bullshit out, and more tragedy in, tragedy out. 5 / 10
Thronum Vrondor – Ichor (The Rebellion) (Pulverised Records)
As a rule, trying to sell your Black Metal band as being “Belgian Misanthropists” (sic) is probably not the best sales pitch. That’s not to say that Belgium hasn’t produced any number of great Metal and Punk bands. It’s just… Well, BELGIUM. No one bought a Depeche Mode album because they were from Basildon.
Still, as I write in the most embarrassing country in Europe (as of 23 June 2016), it is worth noting that the said Belgian misanthropists, Thronum Vrondor, do at least have a brutal sound. Ichor (The Rebellion) (Pulverised Records) has a confident, harsh vibe with a relentless beat, good timing and arrangement, and a constant push to diversify, while still keeping the overall sound consistent.
On the other hand (and there’s always one of those), the album suffers from a general lack of standout moments. It is competent. It is consistent. But it lacks that necessary spark to make it stand out. To properly stand out. To haunt the dreams of the listener and have them playing the songs in their head for hours and days after. Polished like an Ikea coffee table, it neither lingers in the memory nor provides any reason to give a toss beyond its obvious merits. It’s average in a remarkable way. 6 / 10
Unendlich – Thanatophobia (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions)
And so, as this round-up draws to a close, and I work out my coping strategies for being shot as a looter by a Traffic Warden once martial war is declared, what better way to call it quits, than with the third album by Maryland’s (sort-of) one-man Black Metal outfit, Unendlich?
Thanatophobia (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions) immediately makes a great impression with some great USBM screaming and treble-bashing. It drives a myriad of hooks into you, Cenobite-style, and drags you along for its fifty-minute duration. The songs are wonderfully dark and beautifully structured. And catchy. Good gosh, they’re catchy. Were this all there was, this would be a good album, and we’d leave it at that.
But then, it ambushes you. Repeatedly. Take track two, ‘Already Dead’, which suddenly transforms into a creepy mid-tempo croonfest or the sudden electro beats which herald the start of song four, ‘Death Rites’, and play out its conclusion. The ominous use of a single piano key and sinister samples in ‘The Gods We Trust’… The eerie choral effects and spoken word sections on ‘Secrets Of Consequence’…
There are obvious echoes in how Woods of Ypres took Black Metal into all manner of interesting places. The difference here is that Unendlich keeps true to the genre, yet keeps breathing new life into it. As bleak excursions into morbid darkness go, this is strangely life-affirming in its glory. 8/10