Dark Hemyspheres: September 2013
The leaves are starting to turn as the darkness gets ever longer; the chill in the wind announces Autumn is at last here. That means it's time to start digging out those nice thick hoodies from the attic and replace the much-loved moth-eaten old favourites – so which illegible logos should adorn them this season?
Without doubt, the most anticipated release this month is the new Carcass album, just a mere 17 years after their last. The death metal innovators do not disappoint with Surgical Steel , but neither do they come back and blow us away. Brutal and devastating as expected, this is a good solid blast but lacks that sprinkling of horrifying magic that initially cemented their reputation.
Australia is hardly known as a leading light when it comes to music, least of all of the heavier variety, but Altars have sprung a surprise with their debut Paramnesia . Full of crushing - yet also intelligent - death metal, this is a destructive listen from start to finish. And it is the evidence of a little extra thought going into the music that lifts it above the mass of countless others – no outlandish lyrics full of words found in a medical dictionary or pointlessly widdly solos, just a healthy dose of pulverising metal. Master have been around since the birth of the genre, and with album number twelve mainstay Paul Speckmann seems to be running short of new ideas. The Witchhunt  starts off enjoyably enough, then all too quickly the realisation sets in that there is precious little variation amongst what is presented. This isn't so disastrous as to taint a legacy, but is one of those albums that are really best forgotten.
I am struggling to be convinced by what Katatonia have done in Uncrowned And Dethroned . Last year's Dead End Kings was yet another masterful offering from the Swedish lords of gloom, and here they have "re-imagined" the record in a stripped down and acoustic form. Beyond the occasional touching and beautiful moment, the songs generally sound stilted and empty by comparison; you can't help feeling that it would have been a better idea to explore this avenue with a new collection that wouldn't struggle to match up against now familiar tunes. Obelyskkh attempt to distil every doom cliché and trick into Hymn To Pan , and actually manage to do a decent job of it. Monolithic riffs collide with groovier sections as they positively crawl through a sludgy mire of bass-heavy depression. The final twenty plus minute drawl of 'Revelation: The Will To Nothingness' in particular will please acolytes of the genre as it settles into a sumptuous hypnotic daze.
A Storm Of Light have veered off somewhat with their latest offering Nations To Flames . Having drifted further and further into the languid waters of post-rock on previous albums, this time they hit back - and hard. Exhibiting a hardcore lilt in keeping with their new home, we are treated to an apocalyptic tempest of furious guitars and punchy songs. Going in the other direction, Cult Of Luna explore their electronic side on Vertikal II , a companion EP to the recent full-length. The three new tracks are yet even more introverted as the raw heaviness is toned down in favour of more wistful waves of synths and glitchy programming. The Justin Broadrick remix of 'Vicarious Redemption' consequently fits right in at the end as he deconstructs the initial album's centrepiece and adds his own inimitable stamp upon it. That leads us nicely into the new Jesu album... Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came  is certainly a more interesting listen than its predecessor, but the slightly bored and plodding nature of his recent work under this moniker is still apparent. The bittersweet, inverted pop does however see a return of more expansive songs and even meatier guitars in places as the sound begins to edge back to this project's heyday.
A question that gets asked every few months is "do we really need another Acid Mothers Temple record?" We know it's going to be patchy yet fun at the same time: mesmeric riffs and howling feedback bending your brain cells in slightly the wrong way. Doobie Wonderland  is all that, nothing more and nothing less. Though hardly a standout album in their enormous back catalogue, it certainly is not a dud either. But they've already released better this year, so mark as for diehards only. Seattle cohorts Midday Veil take a far more laid-back approach to their krautrock-tinged psychedelia. Second album The Current  is so easy going it's practically horizontal, even the usually driving kosmische rhythms feel like they are having a gentle coast around the block. Not that the album is without a few darker moments as the synths take centre stage, but alas all too often these fall into a lazy Tangerine Dream pastiche that are as dull as they are unnecessary.
After two cracking records, held together as complete stories, Turisas appear to rather lose the plot with Turisas2013  as they ditch the concept idea. Not only does the album sound fragmented, the music has lost much of its sparkle as the folk instruments take more of a back seat to more conventional (read boring) power metal. Repeated listens throw up remarkably few subtleties and revelations, meaning the shelf-life of this one is just a little too short. Back to Holmgard I go... Faroe Islanders Týr similarly fail to hold the attention span on Valkyrja  as the folk metal genre shows alarming signs of universal homogeny. As more traditional instruments are phased out, seemingly as a reaction to gimmick accusations, the real defining factor of bands like this disappear and we return to the dark days of Manowar and their copycats. At least Mael Mordha give reason for hope, even if they are trying a little too much to sound like some of their more illustrious countrymen. Damned When Dead  is so very Irish in flavour as those mystical triplets take you to somewhere cold, raw and windswept. Ancient battles play out under grey skies, green grass turning blood red - these are some vivid aural pictures being painted here.
British thrashers Onslaught have been around a while now, and have their sound pretty much nailed. Latest offering VI  is about as safe and imaginative as the title suggests, with lightning fast everything full of Metallica and Slayer influences. Thrash fans will enjoy this without question, but adventurous or life-changing this is not. There doesn't appear to be too much happening in the genre of late, but the same cannot be said about its baby brother. The rise of intelligent, politically charged hardcore bands blitzing through sixty second songs continues unabated, and the latest addition is Empire Of Rats. Like many of their contemporaries, the band members are seasoned veterans of the industry, and Empire Of Rats  shows both the wealth of experience and the bitterness it has inevitably forged. A blistering charge through a very pissed off mosh pit, this is fast enough that if you blink, you've missed it.
The melding of metal and hip-hop has been a poisoned well that draws derision and ridicule, often with good reason. Yet London crew TRC may have just got it right as they supplement some pretty vicious hardcore with the cutting jibes of grime. Neither half are necessarily the best you'll hear of either, but on Nation  this lot make the two work in unison, each complementing the other in their shared bile and anger riling against everything and everyone. This is an album that in cold logic I should hate – the lead single is a hashtag for Christ's sake – but put prejudice aside for a second and enjoy it, reason be damned! From London to New York, and Stray From The Path attempt to lay waste with Anonymous . However there is nothing mysterious here as this mob delivers a straight up dose of NYHC – no pretentions, no bullshit, and nothing new. The record is full of aggression and resentment alongside some mighty chunky guitars, but we've heard it all before.
When The Safety Fire first emerged, they immediately stood out as a great young British band doing things a little differently in the often staid world of prog metal. Fast forward a year and we have Mouth Of Swords , a distinct improvement over their already impressive debut in every respect. It is the new-found maturity in their work that is the most noticeable here, along with an added dose of delightful melodiousness to play alongside the skittish yet bruising riffs. Focused and controlled, the virtuosity that they have in abundance is now married to a full set of killer tunes, nine highly enjoyable tracks of defiantly original music. This is no clearer than on both 'The Ghosts That Wait For Spring' and 'Old Souls' nestled away at the back end of the album, gloriously heavy but delivered with the deftest of touches. The Safety Fire have delivered on the promise shown first time around, and excite at the prospect that there is still more to come next time.
Carcass – Surgical Steel (16th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Altars – Paramnesia (9th, Nuclear Winter Records)
Master – The Witchhunt (30th, FDA Rekotz)
Katatonia – Dethroned & Uncrowned (9th, Kscope)
Obelyskkh – Hymn To Pan (2nd, Exile On Mainstream)
A Storm Of Light – Nations To Flames (30th, Southern Lord)
Cult Of Luna – Vertikal II (23rd, Indie Recordings)
Jesu – Everyday I Get Closer To The Light From Which I Came (23rd, Avalanche Recordings)
Acid Mothers Temple & The Cosmic Inferno – Doobie Wonderland (2nd, Parallax Sounds)
Midday Veil – The Current (2nd, Translinguistic Other)
Turisas – Turisas2013 (2nd, Century Media Records)
Týr – Valkyrja (16th, Metal Blade Records)
Mael Mordha – Damned When Dead (16th, Candlelight Records)
Onslaught – VI (23rd, AFM Records)
Empire Of Rats – Empire Of Rats (30th, A389 Records)
TRC – Nation (23rd, Siege Of Amida)
Stray From The Path – Anonymous (16th, Sumerian Records)
The Safety Fire – Mouth Of Swords (2nd, InsideOut Records)