Dark Hemyspheres: June 2014

So I am back from my holidays and deeply missing the beer, the baseball and the mountains. A rather large selection of albums have been patiently awaiting my attention. There are good ones, bad ones and downright ugly ones, but with ears now distinctly shaped like my headphones, I've listened to (nearly) all of them.

Two releases in particular have had me on the edge of my mental seat in anticipation at their arrival. One of these is the new Godflesh EP Decline & Fall [8], the first new material under this moniker in 13 years. It is a return to a more simple formula with a single guitar, bass and drum machine bludgeoning the listener into submission. Extraordinarily heavy, the industrial repetitiveness evokes images of huge foundries and mechanical battery – with your head on the anvil. Hypnotic and brutal, it verges on masochistic as the violence becomes addictive all over again; at just 20 minutes long, we are left begging for more. Classic Godflesh this most certainly is, but with a fresh vitality to it that shows that they once again can be relevant in today's scene - albeit less pioneering now given how many bands have followed in their original footprints.

With their nineteenth album Noise [5], Japanese sonic terrorists Boris really, by their standards, don't create much of note. Continuing the recent trend of largely pared-down, punk-orientated affairs, the trio have lost that huge sound that was the reason many fell under their spell, a sound that we get a few tantalising glimpses of, but no more. Despite some fine compositions inside, the overall impression is underwhelming and disappointing. Similarly, Corrosion Of Conformity find themselves on the wrong side of the creative peak with IX [5]. It has all the old building blocks, but that magic spark is simply no longer there. Of course there are the massive Southern grooves and crunching guitars, but ultimately the experience is a little dull and indistinguishable from the mass of copycat stoner bands that litter the scene. Far more surprising is the more traditional doom of Rippikoulu. Some 21 years after their sole demo, the eighteen minutes of Ulvaja [7] are dark, menacing and depressing, a three song suite that delivers a harrowing journey through gloomy waters.

Long-time Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow has handed over the mic to Alissa White-Gluz, and with that the band seems to have found a new spark of life. War Eternal [6] sees the return of a vibrancy to the music; this is death metal with an urge to kill once again. The two ladies have remarkably similar styles, so much so that at times you can barely tell there has been a change. On the other hand, Vader always have been one of the more reliable bands around, and Tini Et Igni [6] is no exception. Whilst this is hardly the Poles' most spectacular effort, it still does the job in admirable fashion, the blistering guitars and machine gun drums get the blood pumping and the head banging. With a name like NunSlaughter, expectations aren't high. But Angelic Dread [6] has tongue firmly planted in cheek (I hope...) and delivers a thoroughly enjoyable dose of blood-soaked Satanic mischief. However, stretched across two discs it does somewhat outstay its welcome a touch, eventually blending into monotonous uniformity.

Mixing Irish folk and classic metal is always going to draw you comparisons to one particular band, and despite Darkest Era shedding a lot of the more obvious moments of flattery, the shadow of Primordial still falls across their sophomore Severance [5]. Galloping along at a fair lick with tremendous energy, the musical heritage shines bright from the power metal core; but over a full 48 minutes the excitement levels soon droop and it becomes a little dull. Swedes Vintersorg have been at this game a lot longer and yet, or possibly as a result, Naturbål [3] sounds generic and tired. Lacking a single distinguishing feature, the mid-paced plodding combines cheesy power metal with the merest hint of folk sensibility in a horribly twee mix. Like every genre, folk metal quickly threw up many parodies of itself – although FM seemed to gather them quicker than most – exactly what we have here.

The live collaboration One Hundred Year Storm [7] between Trepaneringsritualen & Sutekh Hexen is a truly unsettling affair. An hour of distorted electronics, half-hidden voices and spine-chilling drones makes for a great accompaniment for the horror film it kicks off inside your head. Treading that knife-edge of trying to do the minimum possible to achieve maximum effect, it does well to never stray into boredom. Alas the same cannot be said for Form Your Ghost [5] from Sunset Graves. Sparse, haunting electronica that sounds far too much like Boards Of Canada, this is closer to hero worship than drawing inspiration. The music itself is pleasant enough, but the original inspiration to keep it gripping is missing, meaning it very quickly retreats to unremarkable background meanderings.

Kap Kap are a bit more upbeat in their psychedelic musings on album number two, Flux Of Solace [5]. There is a really poppy feel to the krautrock on this catchy and largely happy record, lending it a sense of fun but results in a certain lack of depth and staying power, feeling slightly frivolous and throwaway. In the end, nothing stands out as new or exciting, giving precious few reasons to repeatedly return to it.

It has been long in gestation, but at last Flood Of Red are another band releasing their second effort this month. Throw [7] is decidedly creepier and darker than their debut, but often also lacks the energy of their live shows. It is a record that will certainly divide fans, and I fear many will unfairly dismiss it too early. Complex and fragile, even during those moments they ratchet it up, this is proggy, grown-up emo music – sounds like it shouldn't work, yet somehow it does. Less intriguing is Blazing World [4], the debut from London's The Osiris Club. Drenched in old Seventies prog, it is a painfully dull ode to glories past as they fail to conjure the feeling of wonder and mysticism the classic artists did. Even drawing on the works of Margaret Cavendish and H.P. Lovecraft won't lift this above some cheap horror show.

I was going to add a paragraph about some of the black metal oddities that were among the (black) mass of promos, but after a few false starts I realised I had absolutely nothing to say about them. New ones from Hrizg, Mortualia, Sacrocurse, Zgard and a collection of early Imperial Triumphant inspired nothing but bland repetition of the same frustrations I have ranted about on many previous occasions. Even the normally reliable Blut Aus Nord have disappointed on their split with P.H.O.B.O.S.. The three tracks apiece on Triunity [5] are bleak, harsh and unforgiving, but that doesn’t disguise the fact that for both of them they are playing it safe by their own standards. For bands that revel in unleashing disturbing and disconcerting music, these 40 minutes miss the mark. Fortunately there was just one saving grace, and it so happens to be this month's Dark Star...

The second record that had me all worked up this month most definitely did not fall short. Brooklyn's Tombs have had me under their spell from the moment I heard their debut, and album number three Savage Gold [8] keeps the magic alive. Going back to a slightly rawer and less atmospheric sound than last time around, this is a harsh and punishing listen – as fine an example of modern day black metal as you will find not just in the US, but anywhere across the globe. That's not to say Savage Gold is not without colour, for it certainly has plenty, but none of it is particularly bright. This is an album that absolutely has the heart of the genre at its core, yet also explores beyond its narrow confines and lets the music breathe, evolve and transcend the cheap stereotypes black metal is both burdened with, and too often sticks rigidly to. Tombs are exactly the inventive, intelligent band the scene, the whole of metal, needs to continue the constant process of shifting boundaries and opening new doors whilst, in essence, making damn good music that we all can enjoy.

Godflesh – Decline & Fall (2nd, Avalanche Recordings)
Boris – Noise (16th, Sargent House)
Corrosion Of Conformity – IX (23rd, Candlelight Records)
Rippikoulu – Ulvaja (16th, Svart Records)
Arch Enemy – War Eternal (9th, Century Media Records)
Vader – Tini Et Igni (2nd, Nuclear Blast Records)
NunSlaughter – Angelic Dread (23rd, Hells Headbangers)
Darkest Era – Severance (16th, Cruz Del Sur)
Vintersorg – Naturbål (30th, Napalm Records)
Trepaneringsritualen & Sutekh Hexen – One Hundred Year Storm (16th, Pesanta Urfolk)
Sunset Graves – Form Your Ghost (9th, 3rd & Debut Records)
Kap Kap – Flux Of Solace (9th, Rapu Records)
Flood Of Red – Throw (30th, Superball Music)
The Osiris Club – Blazing World (2nd, Indie Recordings)
Blut Aus Nord / P.H.O.B.O.S. – Triunity (16th, Debemur Morti Productions)
Tombs – Savage Gold (9th, Relapse Records)

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