Dark Hemyspheres: April 2014

April is all about rebirth, a new cycle - whether it be with the taxman or fluffy little deer in the park. But enough philosophy, we want riffs, and lots of them! And we are in luck as there are a few tasty treats amongst the rotting corpses to sink your teeth into. Tuck in!

To have an entire genre named after you probably means you did something right, and Relapse continue their series of Death reissues with 1988's Leprosy [7]. In hindsight, this may not be their best, but it is certainly a defining moment in death metal's early history, an album that created the blueprint that countless bands have been copying for the last twenty six years. Disc one simply sees the original eight tracks given a fresh polish to sound even more devastating, and leaves the listener in little doubt as to why this record is so highly regarded. The second is a collection of two rehearsal sessions from the year previous. I am always sceptical of these rough recordings and demos, and whilst the quality is suitably dire, the September '87 versions do exhibit a raw ferocity that is dampened on the finished product. Alas, the final disc is a waste of time as one and a half live bootlegs are offered up from an ensuing tour, the sound on both being somewhat lacking and simply not worthy of an official release.

Often celebrated amongst critics as the new leading light in death metal, with fifth album Our Endless War [4], Whitechapel are merely churning out more of the same. Of course it is relentlessly harsh and fast, but there is precious little character to the persistent bludgeoning, no sense of emotion or drama to bring it to life. It is easy to hear why they originally elicited such excitement, but it is beyond time they proved they are more than a one trick pony. Skinfather only stick around for half an hour on their first full length, but None Will Mourn [5] certainly doesn’t slip by unnoticed. Taking their name from forerunners Dismember - and whilst never straying from that Stockholm sound - they do at least deliver a record that is as brash as it is sycophantic. With a little more maturity and experience there is still hope these Californians might yet discover some originality to go with the brutality.

I'm not quite sure how they do it, but Insomnium manage to craft music that is upliftingly gloomy. Or gloomily uplifting. Shadows Of The Dying Sun [8] is built upon a solid foundation of doom and prog, and whilst there is no question as to the heaviness of the album, sprinkled over the top is this magical, ethereal magic that means the music soars with a twisted, dark beauty. At the other end of the doom spectrum, we are presented with two very different approaches to the stoner doom scene this month. With Life Drawing [5], Stoneburner go for a much more aggressive approach, dark and dirty both in sound and atmosphere. Culminating in the sprawling 'The Phoenix', it is filled with paranoia, anger and fear. Unfortunately it just takes them too long to do it, as the album stretches out a little too far. However Holy Mountain are far more buoyant on Ancient Astronaut [6] as they positively bounce their way through a weighty slab of groovy metal. At times lightweight and flippant, there is still enough here to enjoy when the mood suits.

Despite the ambitious name, Holy Moses aren't rewriting any rules on Redefined Mayhem [4]. Very much thrash metal by numbers, the band have been around for years, and it shows as they re-tread familiar territory with ease. Still, it is done in a very consummate manner that is enjoyable whilst playing, but almost instantly forgettable once over. Anti Ritual come flying out of the blocks with their eponymous EP. Anti Ritual [6] is a fast, abrasive dose that straddles that thin divide between thrash and hardcore, and the six tracks are over in a flash. Violent is the word that comes to mind here as it kicks out, allowing little time for a breather. At least Brutality Will Prevail are trying a different approach as they slow down their brand of hardcore on Suspension Of Consciousness [5]. Seemingly chasing a crushing heaviness rather than the more usual neck-snapping approach the genre is synonymous with, we ask 'Does it work?' In truth, not really as the record drifts off, failing to maintain the attention as it meanders on its merry way.

They might have a bloody awful name, but Harakiri For The Sky are touch more inventive when it comes to black metal. Aokigahara [7] shows a strong progressive (not prog) streak that sees them expand upon the fundamentals to create an engrossing and imaginative record. The sound quality in particular is broad and thick whilst retaining a cold and menacing edge that is so intrinsic to the genre. Vredehammer display a more basic, punk-orientated approach, but by similarly utilising more modern recording practices allow Vinteroffer [5] to be a blistering document of the bleakest form of metal. Yet another album to suffer from a complete lack of originality, it is at least more than listenable, even approaching fun! Pulling the tired old anonymous and mysterious trick, Dead In The Manger unveil their debut offering Transience [6]. But what they do produce is a coherent, punishing eighteen minutes of music, full of bile and venom. There is little in the way of compromise as it swings from bludgeoning power trips to unsettling dark interludes and back.

Dead Fader, aka John Cohen, has not one but two records released this month, showcasing two sides of his musical personality. Blood Forest [6] is by far the calmer of the two, the pulsating beats tempered by the airy synths and wavering melodies that float in and out of consciousness. On the flip side, Scorched [5] is drenched in feedback and distortion, a far more menacing offering than its ethereal counterpart. Drifting back into more relaxed waters we come to Cotton Wolf and their new EP Cloud City [6]. Taking a lead very much from Warp's roster, it is an engrossing and chilled 18 minutes that gently builds and deconstructs the tension over four tracks. The addition of female vocals on 'Far Away' adds a further soulful element, working both with and against the very processed electronic music underneath.

How have we made it all the way to the end of April without a new Acid Mothers Temple record this year? However, the wait has been worth it as Astrorgasm From The Inner Space [7] is as fine a psychedelic trip as they have produced in years. Back with original vocalist Cotton Casino lending her sweet tones to the din, this is both hypnotic and enthralling as the four 20 minute tracks dance around in joyful madness, careering from squalling feedback to Indian meditation as they head into the outer cosmos. New duo Se Delan, the brainchild of Justin Greaves, do heavy in a very different manner. The Fall [8] again has the slight country tinge that is such a part of Crippled Black Phoenix's sound, but here it is hiding round dark corners and inside pitch black storm clouds. Belinda Kordic adds her achingly gorgeous, airy vocals to the mix, the sweetness making the music behind even more unnerving in its ethereal beauty.

It is hard not to draw comparisons between Delain and Within Temptation, sharing as much as they do, and once again The Human Contradiction [6] comes off second best. A few thumping riffs don't disguise that with some alarmingly catchy tunes and Charlotte Wessels' melodious voice, this is in essence a pop album. As much as this might put some off, there is an innocent joy to it all that others will embrace. Harder to swallow is the first solo album from Nightwish mastermind Tuomas Holopainen. The Life And Times Of Scrooge [3], based on the cartoon duck, is as ludicrous and self-indulgent as the title suggests. A pet project long in gestation, it is overloaded with dramatic strings and sweeping synths, a mess of excess as the bombast of the classical world meets the cheesiest of power metal, sans guitars.

We started this month with death metal, and we'll finish it with a dollop more. Autopsy were one of the leading bands to emerge in the wake of Death, and since reuniting a few years ago have done nothing but enhance their already legendary reputation as the premier exponents of the goriest metal. Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves [8] is ferocious and bloody, treading that knife edge between being classic Autopsy and yet fresh and invigorating at the same time. The band are very clever at tinkering with the mood, pace and feel of each record to give them their own unique twist, and here is no exception. For Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves, Autopsy have gone a little more old school as the creepier and darker elements take a back seat to allow the panic and rush of the moment to take centre stage. This is, in the simplest terms, a joy: crushingly heavy with meaty riffs and a pummelling groove – you can't help but headbang along.

Death – Leprosy (28th, Relapse Records)
Whitechapel – Our Endless War (28th, Metal Blade Records)
Skinfather – None Will Mourn (21st, Streetcleaner Records)
Insomnium – Shadows Of The Dying Sun (28th, Century Media Records)
Stoneburner – Life Drawing (14th, Neurot Recordings)
Holy Mountain – Ancient Astronauts (14th, Chemikal Underground Records)
Holy Moses – Redefined Mayhem (28th, SPV)
Anti Ritual – Anti Ritual (28th, Indisciplinarian)
Brutality Will Prevail – Suspension Of Consciousness (7th, Siege Of Amida Records)
Harakiri For The Sky – Aokigahara (21st, Art Of Propaganda)
Vredehammer – Vinteroffer (7th, Indie Recordings)
Dead In The Manager – Transience (28th, 20 Buck Spin)
Dead Fader – Blood Forest / Scorched (21st, Robot Elephant Records / Small But Hard)
Cotton Wolf – Cloud City (14th, Strangetown Records)
Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O. – Astrorgasm From The Inner Space (28th, Important Records)
Se Delan – The Fall (14th, Kscope)
Delain – The Human Contradiction (7th, Napalm Records)
Tuomas Hulopainen – The Life And Times Of Scrooge (14th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Autopsy – Tourniquets, Hacksaws And Graves (21st, Peaceville Records)

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