Dark Hemyspheres: September 2017
Chill winds, the distant screams of kids, drooping and dying limbs in every garden... September heralds the return of Autumn after yet another disappointing Summer; so what can we soundtrack the inevitable descent into darkness with then? Hiss Spun , the sixth album from Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful accompaniment to the shifting seasons; she slides so effortlessly from fragile beauty to traumatic brutality, a precarious balance between light and shade expertly navigated. The studio material still lacks the overwhelming power of her live shows (an unforgettable experience), which does unfortunately leave this feeling a touch thin by comparison. She is like a temptress leading you down dim corridors; you know it is unlikely to end well for you, but are too enthralled not to follow.
Another spectacular live band I've been lucky enough to see this year are Monolord, but the fall off for their new one Rust  is a huge disappointment. They are desperately trying to recapture the magic of their debut, holding onto past glories and re-treading old ground, only this time they have run out of those absolutely killer riffs that shot them into our consciousness five years ago. The first half of the record is made up of shorter numbers that drop in and out without much bother; and the longer tracks at the back end meander along with little drive or energy. This has become a brand of such stereotypical stoner doom that they have sunk into the mire of countless copycats.
Aussie proggers Caligula's Horse have taken a big step forward with In Contact . A far more cohesive, clinical and proficient record all around, there is a flow to the whole piece that never jars, nor ever falls into repetitive monotony. They still haven't quite broken out from the shackles of many of the genre's clichés, but even here there is progress next to their previous effort; there are moments that sound just a little too much like the previous generation of the genre's heavier children, but equally they have begun to forge an identity of their own that the run of 'Fill My Heart' / 'Inertia And The Weapon Of The Wall' / 'The Cannon's Mouth' aptly demonstrates. There is plenty of bounce and enthusiasm infused in the music, and it is rather infectious once you sink in – definitely less flogging and more running this time around.
After the spitting fury of the opener 'Echoes Of...', Endangered Philosophies , the latest from the experimental hip-hop/drone mash-up masters Dälek, the record surprisingly settles into to a far more sombre mood than we are used to. The sumptuous blend of soaring post-rock, electronics and beats is still on point, and MC Dälek once again proves he is one of the finest wordsmiths around. Is the musical shift a sign that they are wearying of the fight and looking upon the injustices of the world more with resigned bitterness? Not if those seething, biting lyrics are any indication. It is interesting to hear the trio move into darker, brooding waters; the menacing undertones of yore now rise to the surface, and the result is more unsettling than ever before.
I've always found Ufomammut to be rather fun in a proper psychedelic freakout kind of way. The problem with 8  is that it has lost that sense of carefree abandonment; this is dirty, heavy, doom-laden psych that remains similar to their previous work, but sounds as if even they have become a little bored with trotting out variations on a theme. The record is very one-dimensional, with what few changes there are in pace or riff executed very abruptly, the clunky nature being far more amateurish than should be expected from anyone this deep into a career. It is rare to get this far without a few mistakes along the way, and these Italians have seemingly made most of them all at once.
What was hinted at last time around is now abundantly clear on Will To Power  – the fire has been relit under Arch Enemy. All the band's hallmarks are here, only this time they are amplified for the first time in a long while; the riffs are fast and furious, yet wonderfully melodious too; and of course there are the searing solos that Michael Amott has been delivering for a quarter of century. The cause is undoubtedly helped by vocalist Alissa White-Gluz feeling more settled and involved second time around, as the likes of 'Reason To Believe' has her showing off her full range in impressive style. This still doesn't reach the giddy heights of their heyday, but the big leap back towards the passion and vibrancy of that period is very pleasing to hear indeed.
After a less-than-successful foray into the realms of ambient electronica last time out, it is immensely pleasing to have the screaming, furious black metal version of Wolves In The Throne Room back. The urge to experiment has not left them on Thrice Woven  though, as this time they draw strongly on north-western folk to add another layer of bleakness to the morose soundscapes; this creates a stark relief to the return of their buzzing distortion and machine-gun drumming, a haunting aura that only increases the dismay and foreboding. The huge arboreal sonic pictures they paint are as grandiose and sweeping as they have ever been, encapsulating the freedom of the vast forests so prevalent in their home state and the claustrophobic darkness underneath their canopy with a deceptive ease.
Misha Hering, aka Memnon Sa, has gone on something of a krautrock binge if sophomore album Lemurian Dawn  is any indication. Still very much with one foot planted in the drone world (and hence forgoing the motorik rhythms), the shift of emphasis from guitars to synths brings this into the realms of kosmische interstellar tripping. Creating images of drifting through the vast emptiness, witnessing distant galaxies forming and dying... This doesn't so much takes a leaf out of Tangerine Dream's book as use the whole tome; although this does stray a smidgen too close to hero-worship at times, it remains a blissful escape from this planet, at least for a short time.
There are so many imitators, but few can match the grace and majesty Godspeed You! Black Emperor impart into their complex, euphoric post-rock. "Luciferian Towers"  might not reach the dizzying heights of last year's masterpiece, yet it is still an enthralling and gorgeous journey through a wondrous dreamland. Their ability to build and release tension with such excruciating pleasure is a lesson for any and every band, regardless of genre; the music hooks deep and never lets go, dragging the listener through canyons and over peaks, filling you with unbounded joy before breaking your heart. The concluding part of 'Anthem For No State' encapsulates this beautiful ordeal, a rush that leaves us gasping for breath by its conclusion.
Various members of Paradise Lost have been amusing themselves with death metal side projects in recent years, and it is beginning to show as they reconvene for Medusa . Of course the dour Yorkshire lads remain doomier-than-thou, but a shift in Greg Mackintosh's guitar tone to one more bloodied and dirtier, along with the continued resurrection of Nick Holmes' guttural growls, introduces a more violent edge into their music. And it is works very well indeed; the record rattles along at a pace that is almost rapid by their standards, yet never detracts from the despondent misery that is the band's hallmark. Paradise Lost continue to refresh and reinvent without losing what makes them quintessentially them (they've made that mistake before...) Medusa continues this revitalisation that has now seen close to a decade of magnificently depressing music that rivals (perhaps even surpasses? There is an argument for that) their first golden era. A Dark Star? Oh yes.
Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun (22nd, Sargent House)
Monolord - Rust (29th, RidingEasy Records)
Caligula's Horse - In Contact (15th, InsideOut Music)
Dälek - Endangered Philosophies (1st, Ipecac Recordings)
Ufomammut - 8 (22nd, Neurot Recordings)
Arch Enemy - Will To Power (8th, Century Media Records)
Wolves In The Throne Room - Thrice Woven (22nd, Artemisia Records)
Memnon Sa - Lemurian Dawn (29th, Aurora Borealis)
Godspeed You! Black Emperor - "Luciferian Towers" (22nd, Constellation Records)
Paradise Lost - Medusa (1st, Nuclear Blast Records)