Dark Hemyspheres: December 2015

The final few months of 2015 have been decidedly quiet on the Dark Hemyspheres front, with very little raising much more than a death rattle. Alas this feels like all too fitting an end to a year that promised much but ultimately failed to deliver on too many occasions. Before moving onto a selection of December’s releases however, there were a couple of records that stood out as being triumphant clarion calls that are certainly worth revisiting. The debut full-length Cessation from the mysterious blackened hardcore outfit Dead In The Manger came out as long ago as February, and was never surpassed as my pick for the darkest of dark stars. Hauntingly bleak and crushingly powerful, the twenty seven minute blast has been a constant companion ever since; “manages to walk that knife-edge balancing unbridled passion and hatred (which it has in abundance) with maintaining a carefully crafted approach to maximise the impact of such bile. The quieter moments, though no less menacing, serve only to heighten the torrent of anger”.

Two more albums edging into similar territory that rose above the mire of bland and boring offerings were Planks’ farewell Perished Bodies, and Fail To Feel Safe from Enabler. The former, signing off as the pressures of real life made the prospect of continuing impossible, are a great loss indeed, but thankfully at least they did so with a record that is a worthy epitaph; “not so much a fond farewell as a scourging of the soul, the mixture of hardcore and black metal produces another visceral episode of a dark and bitter railing against this cruel world”. The controversy that surrounded the release of Fail To Feel Safe was confused and bitter (allegations I only found after hearing and reviewing the album), a sad situation that should never come to pass but all too frequently does. But if one can distance these from the music presented, the record is an explosive experience, as has come to be expected from them; “a constant assault upon the hearing, blistering riffs and jackhammer drums filled with incandescent vitriol that is both devastating and awe-inspiring”.

The final addition to this list comes from the opposite end of the extreme spectrum and explores the realms of the drone; a remarkable and compelling piece of work, 'Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress' is the shortest and most concise album from Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Beautifully shaped and honed, it sweeps you up into its alluring arms and never loosens its grip. The majestic pacing of the album is a masterclass for all to learn from, introverted yet expansive; “the trials have paid dividends as what is left is visceral and sharp… an experience that is haunting, unsettling and completely exhausting”.

And so we head onto December’s releases. The obvious place to start is the return of djent forefathers SikTh, whose new EP Opacities [6] is the first such in nine years. It has been fascinating going back over their discography and hearing just how far ahead of the curve they were back in the mid noughties as they pre-empted the genre by years. The problem is now that this EP sounds like a band trying to copy the SikTh of 2006; time has moved on, but the band have yet to catch back up with all those they inspired.

France’s Monolithe have made something of a name for themselves by testing the limits of duration and endurance, albums playing as single pieces approaching the hour mark and relying heavily of repetition and subtle variations. Fifth effort Epsilon Aurigae [6] breaks the mould in that this comprises of three fifteen minute pieces that sit surprisingly disjointedly next to each other; however the slow, marching onslaught of doom-laden riffs remains the modus operandi. They might not be able to come up with even a remotely good moniker, but Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard are much better at unleashing gargantuan doom. Debut Noeth Ac Anoeth [7], culminating in the epic half hour of ‘Nachthexen’, crawls along at an inexorable pace with a weight to match. The guitars are so bass-heavy that your eyeballs begin rattling, but it is Jessica Ball’s vocals that immediately stand out as her angelic, fragile tones float over the sludgy mire like a light in the blackness.

Listening to Sunn O))) on record is always a touch of a let-down if you have ever seen them in concert; the enormous power and full-bodied physicality of those live rituals is impossible to recreate through a stereo system. Yet there is still plenty to enjoy from their studio adventures with the blissful sense of sinking whole-heartedly into the music, using it to erase all thought and thoroughly relax as the waves of the drones sweep all before them. The latest such expedition is Kannon [8], one of the most refined and focused compositions they have committed to tape. At a mere thirty three minutes long, it can finish almost before you’ve even fully settled in; the flip side is that there is no directionless meandering here as the band map out a pure refinement of their sound. And it is that purity that ensures Kannon is not “just another” Sunn O))) album, this is the essence of what they do – huge walls of distorted guitars and synths punctuated by Csihar’s daemonic wails to create a perfect void, terrifying yet strangely comfortable as even temporarily you remove yourself from this dimension.

SikTh – Opacities (4th, Peaceville Records)
Monolithe – Epsilon Aurigae (11th, Debemur Morti Productions)
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – Noeth Ac Anoeth (4th, New Heavy Sounds)
Sunn O))) – Kannon (4th, Southern Lord)

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