Dark Hemyspheres: August 2017
Is there even anyone left in the country this month? Oh well, it would hardly be the first time I've prattled on to myself... Given the talent and experience present within The Lurking Fear, it was never in doubt that Out Of The Voiceless Grave  would be brutal, and surgically clinical in its onslaught. And of course it is exactly this, maintaining a relentless barrage of modern Scandinavian death metal. You can feel the "but" coming, can't you? I really enjoy this, for about five tracks; however, it is all so similar that attention wanders far too easily, a numbing to the violence on display that leaves us cold and disengaged. This is certainly a curio, but like so many of these vanity projects, amounts to little more than that.
In yet another meeting of illustrious musicians blowing off a little steam, Dead Cross blast out a salvo of fiery, thrashy punk numbers. Alas Dead Cross  is a rather insubstantial result that feels (and sounds) like a collection of demos and ideas that no one has managed to finish yet. Indeed, the obvious highlight is a cover, a dark and brooding 'Bela Lugosi's Dead' which has just enough bite in the shadows to make you take note. For all of Mike Patton's vocal gymnastics and Dave Lombardo doing his best octopus impression, there are precious few reasons here to demand multiple repeat listens.
Our monthly dose of cosmic radiation comes courtesy of Earthling Society, who venture into jazzier, weirder reaches on Ascent To Godhead . The lost recording of 'Can You Levitate?' from years past launches us with typical krautrock joy complete with driving motorik rhythms and hippy, nonsensical lyrics. The two sides of the title track are where things deviate from the norm; a heavy Indian influence, although not unique in the genre, makes for a hypnotic and calming change. Still set very firmly within the realms of the kosmische, the band meld the two seamlessly to create one of those mental theatres this music is so fond of, building in ever noisier circles to blissful release (and possibly even enlightenment, if you are so inclined).
I remember the shockwaves Akercocke sent through the metal community when the emerged nearly twenty years ago; their approach to black metal was very avant-garde at times, but the buzz curiously was more about their look, bedecked as Victorian gentlemen rather than the usual ghoulish visage. After a decade's absence they are back with their sixth album, Renaissance In Extremis , and the reunion falls a bit flat. When they really hammer into the furious blastbeats and lightning riffing they can be a truly terrifying band, but too often this ends up a muddled mess of confused music that has no flow or consistency. And those clean vocals... bloody awful, tuneless and strained like a drunken businessman's in a late night karaoke bar, all they achieve is a quizzical look and the complete destruction of any atmosphere created before.
After the turmoil that has surrounded Eluveitie since their last offering, it is a pleasure to have them return. Although not in an entirely familiar manner, as for the first time in eight years, they once again eschew the metal elements for Evocation II - Pantheon , the long-awaited sequel to their more traditionally acoustic-based record of 2009. The most immediately obvious shift is with the female vocals; Fabienne Erni has a much more classically gothic voice, which may hint at a future direction for the band once the distortion kicks back in. Built upon the folk traditions founder Chrigel Glanzmann has always treasured, this also takes in influences from the musical heritage of all corners of Europe. The likes of 'Aventia' show the strong Irish streak running throughout the piece, whilst 'Antvmnos' visits these shore with a delicate and beautiful rendition of 'Scarborough Fair', a different instrument taking up the iconic melody for each round. There are still moments of real heaviness, such as 'Catvrix', that prove that a new line-up does not mean an entirely new approach.
Leprous are a true prog band. A bold statement yes, but a correct one; not because they love the sound of a synth or three, or because they have devilishly complex songs that confuse and amaze in equal measure – although both are the case, it is because they genuinely progress and evolve from one album to the next. Malina  retains the essence of what makes these Norwegian troubadours who they have become, and introduces new context and insight into the picture too. The dirty, menacing edge has been dulled by a more sensitive, emotive side that cuts deeper than the blunt force trauma ever did by itself. A lush mix of melodious riffs, exquisite composition and an eye for the smallest detail, Leprous have constructed something that is heavy in more ways than the obvious manner, and yet can be uplifting or heart-breaking just as easily. It is this emphasis on the latter aspects that pushes Malina out into true progressive territory, and is a worthy Dark Star.
The Lurking Fear – Out Of The Voiceless Grave (11th, Century Media Records)
Dead Cross – Dead Cross (4th, Ipecac Recordings)
Earthling Society – Ascent To Godhead (4th, Riot Season Records)
Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis (25th, Peaceville Records)
Eluveitie – Evocation II - Pantheon (18th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Leprous – Malina (25th, InsideOut Music)