Dark Hemyspheres: June 2017
You never quite know what you're going to get with each new Circle record, but then that is half the fun of the prolific and enigmatic Finnish collective. It is back to their psychedelic kosmische space for Terminal , and they find themselves in some fertile territory this time. The madcap craziness is tethered to some stonking riffs – most notably on the superlative title track – to create something that is suitable "out there", whilst still retaining a definite sense of "heaviness". The whole album bounds along with verve and energy, fully embracing the krautrock hallmarks with an unrestrained sense of joy imbued within the music; it is tremendously entertaining and takes itself seriously enough to create something meaningful, without ever getting too grave...
The illustrious trio of Attila Csihar, Stephen O'Malley and Oren Ambarchi have resurrected their Gravetemple moniker for their first release in nearly a decade. Impassable Fears  is a predictably monolithic mix of gargantuan wall-of-sound guitars, frenetic drumming and otherworldly yelps that are all signatures of the constituent parts. Unfortunately this time around (despite being four years in the making) it comes across as merely a bunch of unfinished ideas thrown together with little thought given to crafting a complete performance, as previous releases by both this band and their others have done so successfully. The bumpy, stop-start nature of this is frustrating and tiresome, leaving it more of a trial to listen to rather than the relaxing and immersive experience that this style of deafening drone really should be.
I was gutted last year when it was announced that Anna Murphy and others had departed Eluveitie; but three of them have now reconvened to present us This Is The Sound  under the banner of Cellar Darling. Bringing her beautiful voice and hurdy-gurdy (and pipes and violin and flute and... Well, you get the idea) to the fore, this is a vibrant and energetic record that is actually more rock than folk; the former ensures it rattles along, whilst the latter adds another layer of melody that guarantees it is firmly lodged in the brain. Although it might not set the world alight by pushing boundaries or being utterly revolutionary, this is an album that is simply a delight. There is enough here to please all sorts, the charm lying within the ease with which it seduces the listener.
In many ways Dying Fetus play the stereotypical death metal people love to take the piss out of; that can also be seen as such is testament to the enduring influence the band has had on the scene over the last quarter of a century. New record Wrong One To Fuck With  is hardly going to change any perceptions of them now, and nor does it try to. Plain and simple, this is the band doing what they do best – it is bloody, it is loud, it is extreme and it is perfectly executed. As the members have gotten older (and wiser?), it is the final part of the equation that has come to the fore. The sound has become cleaner as they have become more technically proficient, meaning their blows are more precise without losing any of that brutality that elevated them to such high thrones in the first place.
I'm not sure any of us saw this one coming; Tuesday The Sky is a new post-rock collaboration between guitarist Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) and drummer Lloyd Hanney (God Is An Astronaut). The outcome, Drift , manages to shine a new light on a genre that has too often appeared stagnant and clichéd in recent times. Almost entirely instrumental, bar some haunting choral strains from Anne-Lynne Williams, the music floats along in an otherworldly daze; whilst it allows you to drift away, it always has a hook in you to stop your attention wavering. The zenith comes with 'Dyatlov Pass', as fine an example of the style as I have heard in years, enlightened by Matheos' inimitable sound in the second half playing perfect foil to the foreboding drone of the first few minutes.
With the winds of his primary band's latest barely dying down, The Watcher (along with drummer Havenless) is back under the guise of Fellwarden, unleashing the debut Oathbearer . Unlike most side-projects however, there is very little to distinguish this from Fen; echo-drenched atmospheric black metal is the order of the day (again), inspired this time by the fells of northern England rather than the fens of East Anglia. There are small differences to separate this from the latter, most notably in a lighter, less menacing air that paints a broader, more beautifully desolate picture. The result though is a record that pales in comparison, lacking the deep shadows and hidden horrors that has characterised the (deservedly) celebrated big brother for the last decade.
In a month littered with new adventures from established artists, the most startling must just be Hydrogen  from BardSpec, the new ambient brainchild of Ivar Bjørnson (he of folky prog metallers Enslaved, no less). Swelling layers of ethereal guitars build huge towers of sound that cast long shadows, but never overwhelm; often underpinned by gentle but driving beats, the album moves along at a pace unusually fast for one so chilled, merely adding to the myriad of pleasant surprises continually being unwrapped. The mood is itself upbeat, and although it never quite makes it to "joyous", remains happily contented throughout. This is an engaging listen, made all the more pleasing for its unlikely source.
My money always was on Tombs to earn this month's Dark Star, and The Grand Annihilation  does not disappoint. Ever since their superlative debut blew me away, I have considered them one of the leading exponents of not just the US scene, but the entirety of black metal today. Although still drawing from the very roots of the genre, under the guidance of Mike Hill, the band have pushed at all the boundaries, striving to be as heavy and extreme as possible with little thought as to what those outside care. This, their fourth album, is decidedly more song-oriented than previous offerings have been; the record is still clearly designed as one complete piece with the ebbs and flows sweeping the listener along in yet another masterful display of composition. But that rhythm is laid out in something approaching a classical structure, each song being self-contained yet filling a very specific hole, revealing over time the complete picture. The Grand Annihilation is simply another stunning demonstration of how Tombs are able to explore dim alleys few even recognise are even there.
Circle – Terminal (23rd, Southern Lord Records)
Gravetemple – Impassable Fears (2nd, Svart Records)
Cellar Darling – This Is The Sound (30th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Dying Fetus – Wrong One To Fuck With (23rd, Relapse Records)
Tuesday The Sky – Drift (30th, InsideOut Music)
Fellwarden – Oathbearer (16th, Eisenwald)
BardSpec – Hydrogen (23rd, By Norse Music)
Tombs – The Grand Annihilation (16th, Metal Blade Records)