Dark Hemyspheres: October 2016
We'll start this month with the long-awaited return of an old favourite; Mithras remain somewhat special to me as an introduction to the extreme with their superlative sophomore twelve years ago. On Strange Loops  harks back closely (sometimes alarmingly so) to that record, this adding in the bonus of clear and crisp production to accentuate the brutality. Gargantuan slabs of distorted guitars are pierced by ethereal synth-laden motifs and dazzling solos in a flurry of proggy yet utterly destructive death metal that just about stays on the right side of the complex/messy line. A new Meshuggah album is always something to look forward to, so to say The Violent Sleep Of Reason  is a disappointment would be greatly unjust, for it is very good and something many bands would kill to produce. The problem is that it sounds rather too similar to the last couple; ridiculous levels of musicianship on mind-bafflingly intricate songs. Again. It may be a case of familiarity breeds contempt, but that spark of experimentation that bloomed a decade ago has unfortunately died.
Birmingham natives Anaal Nathrakh have turned relentlessness into an art form, their own particular brand of black metal fed on a steady diet of the late Eighties grindcore they grew up in and around. The Whole Of The Law  is very much more of the same, and therein lies the rub – this is good, but rather similar and not quite as explosive as some of their previous work. This is beginning to sound familiar… Once again the same accusation can be levelled at Darkthrone, who have made a twenty five year career out of lo-fi, harsh black metal. Album number sixteen, Arctic Thunder , follows a remarkably similar, albeit successful, blueprint full of furiously buzzing guitars and banshee wails as they bring the frozen heart of the tundra to your living room. Unlike many of the newer bands trying desperately to still mimic that early Nineties scene, this is well recorded with plenty of bite to the cold wind, executed by two of the wiliest veterans in the scene.
Thankfully not everything this month is just a rehash of better days. Delving much deeper into the past are Wardruna as they conclude their trilogy on ancient Nordic runes with Runaljod - Ragnarok . Swathed in darkness, the exclusive use of traditional instruments (often taped out in the wilderness) lends the rhythmical drones an organic, feral air; the otherworldly voices add depth and show what proto religious singing might have been like (think Gregorian chanting). Majestically layered, this is regal and grand without being over the top, drawing the listener in with the lush and intrinsically detailed composition. Of course it is difficult to separate this from the show Vikings – in which both music and members have appeared on multiple occasions – but the pair are so well suited to each other, even if they are somewhat romanticised versions of the historic.
Japanese four-piece Mono are seen as one of the finest post-rock outfits in the world, alas Requiem For Hell , their ninth full-length, offers little evidence of that. Unremittingly dull, slow and uninspiring, this is all the genre's clichés rolled into one. Only the central title track offers anything of note as the grandiose swells of noise half way through not only fills all the space but are rather catchy too; however these fade from memory too quickly, blanked out by the void of blandness that surrounds the rest of the album. On their second full-length Wounds , Fvnerals are going for as bleak an atmosphere as they can muster. Although largely successful in creating an unremittingly harrowing scene, the method is monotonously one-dimensional and the sound painfully thin. Tiffany Strom's haunting vocals wind around sparse, simplistic progressions whilst backed by lethargic drumming and predictable synth washes, with a decidedly soporific effect.
Touching on the unofficial theme of this month one last time, the Dark Star for September has to come from a band who have broken away from the expected. On Reliquary For A Dreamed Of World , Mike Vest and the rest of 11PARANOIAS no longer rely quite so completely on the overly-distorted, earthquake-inducing guitar drones as they allow the smoky tendrils of psychedelia to infuse the wall of noise. Few have ever done it better than on the fifteen minute gem that is 'Destroying Eyes', an unbelievably hypnotic and heavy adventure to the outer reaches; rattling along with a deceptive ease, even at that length it feels too short and leaves a tinge of disappointment that it is over. But that is not all, as the likes of the slow-burning 'Meditation On The Void' and the downright creepy 'Phantom Pyramid' demonstrate 11PARANOIAS are in full-blown experimentation mode here. Reliquary For A Dreamed Of World is a welcome divergence away from the ubiquitous doom these folks are associated with, whilst still reminding everyone how powerful and expansive they can be.
Mithras – On Strange Loops (21st, Willowtip Records)
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason (7th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Anaal Nathrakh – The Whole Of The Law (28th, Metal Blade Records)
Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder (14th, Peaceville Records)
Wardruna – Runaljod - Ragnarok (21st, By Norse)
Mono – Requiem For Hell (14th, Pelagic Records)
Fvnerals – Wounds (14th, Golden Antenna Records)
11PARANOIAS – Reliquary For A Dreamed Of World (28th, Ritual Productions)