Dark Hemyspheres: September 2014

The time of horror is upon us once again – no, not the next fad metal posers – the school run. The hordes of kids leaving trails of destruction in their wake twice a day as their parents run amok, a sight to drive any man to the brink of despair. Thankfully, there’s a few new albums released this month to help with that…

The term “epic black metal” can often spell disaster, but thankfully Dark Fortress continue to avoid many of the pitfalls with Venereal Dawn [7]. Becoming more progressive in their approach, this is a sprawling and bleak affair as it tells a rather twisted tale. The album is prone to a spot of meandering, but never for too long before finding another dark alley to lead us down. Alas White Empress are not able to perform that trick on their debut Rise Of The Empress [4]. The brainchild of former Cradle Of Filth guitarist Paul Allender, it does very much feel like a cheap knock-off as the orchestral synths and schizophrenic vocals try to distract from the very fast - but very plain - guitars. A much more difficult listen is Writhes In The Murk [6], the third offering from Ævangelist. Buried under a mountain of reverb and echo there is something approaching a standard album (I think), although most will immediately dismiss it as a mess. Persevere through the dense wall of noise and let the swamp enclose you to find a truly unsettling experience.

The choice of lead single seemed to cause a fair amount of consternation (to put it politely) amongst In Flames fans, and whilst I happy to report that ‘Through Oblivion’ is one of the worst songs on Siren Charms [3], the rest is not much better. There is no edge, no bite to the music any more, just a rough collection of insipid tunes where the “experimentation” is adding some ill-fitting and basic electronics. But most disappointing of all is the moment when you release all those little glimpses of the old sound are mere variations on one sole riff. At least with Cannibal Corpse you know what you are going to get. A Skeletal Domain [5] is exactly that, a riotous blast through the gorier death metal realms, vicious assaults on the senses that sound almost exactly the same as the last half dozen efforts. They may take the “if it ain’t broke…” saying a little far, but there’s no denying that this is still fun in a juvenile kind of way.

In what is probably their heaviest release to date, Amplifier move ever further away from the prog tag on Mystoria [8]. This is in essence an album full of joyous riffs and damn good tunes that simply rock; clever in a simple way. There is a perpetual sense that things aren’t too serious underneath it all, which lends the record an added dimension of fun, like it is one big joke that only a few of us might get. Newcomers Empress AD impress on their debut Still Life Moving Fast [6]. Touted as prog too, there are merely hints of it amongst the more hardcore orientated rock, allowing their sound to expand beyond that of many of the more scenester bands they will likely end up touring with. Striking a careful balance between unfettered rage and good songwriting, there is definite promise here.

Never have I heard such a drastic upturn between two albums from the same band. I gave PHILM’s debut a 2 when it was released a couple of years ago as it was, put simply, utterly dreadful. The improvement on Fire From The Evening Sun [6] is just off the scale. The production has gone from unlistenable to smooth and boisterous, the songs from turgid to groovy – every aspect of this record is streets ahead of the mess they first subjected us to. A lively mix of old hardcore punk and experimental prog, this is something just a little bit different, and a worthy effort by three musicians who have worked out they do in fact know better.

Despite being massively heavy, Yob create some incredibly relaxing music. Clearing The Path To Ascend [6] consists of four quarter-hour pieces that envelop the listener in huge waves of distorted guitars that wash over in slow motion, the doom-laden hymns forming a shell against the outside world that eliminates every other thought. It is not so much depressing as the soundtrack to an inevitable finale. Falloch on the other hard are extremely morose on sophomore outing This Island, Our Funeral [7]. Drawing strongly on folk influences to add life to the doom and post-rock clichés, the vast Scottish Highlands are painted in vivid detail. The feelings of emptiness and despair are balanced by a soaring beauty that befits such evocative landscapes. Following up their debut earlier this year, Godhunter have teamed up with Secrets Of The Sky to produce the split GH/0ST:S [5]. The shorter tracks from each are fairly forgettable takes on hardcore-tinged monolithic doom, but both halves of the title tracks are far more unnerving as they play with dark ambience.

Krautrock is not a genre that is going to be radically reinvented anytime soon, so it is far too easy for many bands to follow the old Seventies blueprint a little too closely. Thankfully Dutchmen Monomyth do not fall into this trap on Further [7], a rollicking ride through bouncy, spacey, repetitive and most certainly psychedelic back streets. The motorik beats and futuristic synths of course abound, but it is the quality of the songwriting and ever-shifting movements that lifts this above being just another NEU! pastiche.

Seeing a physical release in Europe for the first time is Vampillia’s 2011 Alchemic Heart [6]. Nowhere near as bizarre as many of their other releases, the two twenty plus minute drone pieces are still somewhat off-kilter, partly due to Jarboe’s haunting narration and the harsh noises courtesy of Merzbow. Whereas they bring classical into drone with the use of violins, it is rarer to hear drone being brought into the classical world so fully, but that is exactly what Tashi Wada has done with Duets [4]. Four pieces composed for two cellos, the album falls down in that all four pieces are a rehash of the same idea, the pair getting ever lower as the pieces continue, only to start at the top again the next track. Especially given that these have been written and recorded over an eighteen month period, there is precious little imagination present. Much more varied is Communion [5] from Toronto’s Black Walls. After a less than promising start of dull dream pop, the album descends deeper into the dark recesses of reverb-soaked loops and drones. Here it becomes a chilling affair, the minimalist approach drawing up half-seen suggestions of nightmares that walk in the space between sleeping and waking.

And so begins the next phase of Earth’s career. Primitive And Deadly [8] is both something new and different for Seattle’s slowest band, yet also retains many of the hallmarks that distinguishes it most definitely as an Earth album. The distortion pedal might have been dusted off as the desert drone of recent times is amped up, but this is no return to the noisy days of yore. The pace, whilst still sluggish, has stepped up a notch, and there are - *gasp* - vocals! Mark Lanegan and Rabia Shaheen Qazi turn three of the five tracks into something approaching adult lullabies, the sonorous songs wrapping you up in their huge embrace. Earth are one of those very rare bands able to do whatever they please without an eye on what else is happening in music, and Primitive And Deadly is another step in their unique evolution. The music is tough to absorb with the almost soporific drones proving just too slovenly for most, but if it clicks then there are few who can match them for the hold they can take.

Dark Fortress – Venereal Dawn (1st, Century Media Records)
White Empress – Rise Of The Empress (29th, Peaceville Records)
Ævangelist – Writhes In The Murk (15th, Debemur Morti Productions)
In Flames – Siren Charms (8th, Sony CMG UK)
Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain (15th, Metal Blade Records)
Amplifier – Mystoria (8th, Superball Music)
Empress AD – Still Life Moving Fast (1st, Roadrunner Records)
PHILM – Fire From The Evening Sun (15th, UDR)
Yob – Clearing The Path To Ascend (1st, Neurot Recordings)
Falloch – This Island, Our Funeral (22nd, Candlelight Records)
Godhunter / Secrets Of The Sky – GH/0ST:S (8th, The Compound / Battleground)
Monomyth – Further (22nd, Suburban Records)
Vampillia – Alchemic Heart (29th, Temple Of Torturous)
Tashi Wada – Duets (29th, Saltern)
Black Walls – Communion (15th, Little Crackd Rabbit)
Earth – Primitive And Deadly (1st, Southern Lord)

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