Dark Hemyspheres: April 2013

Sun, snow, wind and rain – it must be April! The football season is trying to fit in all its games before another miserable Bank Holiday, while cricket matches are being abandoned faster than a Finn bouncer. But fret not, for there a few treats to warm those stinging ears and accompany that fourth mug of hot cocoa.

The obvious starting point this month is Rise Above Records and their selection of releases that have got a lot of people very excited. Cathedral bring down the curtain on their long and influential career with The Last Spire [7], exactly the sort of album every fan would want them to bow out with. It isn't particularly adventurous or innovative, but it is unquestionably a Cathedral record; the doom-laden riffs are delicious and Lee Dorrian's lyrical wit as sharp as ever. At the other end of their career, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats have readied their first major release. Initial impressions of Mind Control [7] are slightly disappointing as the playful melodiousness of earlier material gives way to a more conventional doom vibe emphasising raw heaviness. But it shouldn't detract from the fact that this is still a fine album from one of the best underground bands going.

Having risen to prominence with their debut on Rise Above, Ghost B.C. have joined the big boys for Infestissumam [6]. Ridiculously over the top and camp in their comical worshipping of Satan, hiding behind their big robes and bigger masks, the hype appears to have got to them as this sophomore release falls a long way short of its brilliant predecessor. Following mainly along the same groovy doom lines, the ideas are this time jaded and regurgitated, though the likes of 'Ghuleh/Zombie Queen' and 'Monstrance Clock' show what they should be capable of. But this is positively normal compared to Gloryhammer, the new project from Alestorm mastermind Christopher Bowes. Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife [5] is ludicrous power metal of the first order, and with tracks titled the likes of 'The Unicorn Invasion Of Dundee' and 'Beneath Cowdenbeath', it is inevitably rather silly fun, albeit without the ingenuity and consistency of his primary outfit.

This month also brings with it a relative plethora of split releases. Brothers from the Virginia doom scene Cough and Windhand meet for Reflection Of The Negative [6]. Three lengthy dirges drowning in monolithic riffs, there is frankly little to distinguish the two, but the ponderous epics are not wholly unpleasant to these ears. Coma Wall and Undersmile are two sides of the same coin, the former being the acoustic incarnation of the latter, much-vaunted Oxford doom troupe. So it is no surprise Wood And Wire [4] is a singularly depressing affair, sonorous guitars and droning monotone vocals creating an air of utter despondency. Both halves owe a little too much to pioneers Earth, current and original incarnations respectively, and as such this fails to go far beyond some competent hero worship. Split [6] sees Across Tundras and Lark's Tongue share forty minutes of proggy, psychedelic wig-outs that are wholly self-indulgent, but fun enough to get away with it. Infused with a groovy Americana stoner vibe, you can just imagine this soundtracking some coming-of-age indie road trip movie, with Across Tundras for the daylight scenes whilst Lark's Tongue's sweeping atmospherics lends itself to the night.

The buzz surrounding Whitechapel has always seemed rather inflated, the band never fully justifying the tag as the reinventors of death metal for a new generation. This reissue of debut The Somatic Defilement [6], fully remixed and remastered too, sheds some light on why it started nearly a decade ago. This is one brutal affair suitably beefed up by the tinkering, appropriate given the subject matter of Jack the Ripper, and is a very commendable record from a band so young - just where did all that promise go? Finnish monsters Deathchain continue to do exactly what they say on the tin with latest offering Ritual Death Metal [5]. A relentless and uncompromising slab of death metal, it is about as original as a fresh corpse in Midsomer village. Their fellow countrymen Amorphis may have started off down similar lines, yet the gulf now is huge. Circle [7] sees them once again bounce around many sub-genres yet manage to keep the album coherent and heavy at every turn. The folksy wilds of their homeland seem to be the primary influence this time around, giving the album a dark, mystical feel over the lush waves of progressive metal.

But nothing is more menacing and foreboding than Teethed Glory And Injury [8] this month, the third offering from Ireland's Altar Of Plagues. Made up of shorter and more concise songs, this is still a twisted and difficult listening experience as harsh black metal guitars crash against nefarious waves of disturbing ambience, rhythmical beatings march towards some unseen yet impending doom. Alas, the atmosphere from Asofy could hardly be more different on Percezione [2]. With four tracks that drag on interminably, scarred by Empio's whining chalkboard-grating vocals, this really is a dull and turgid listen that evokes none of the dread or uneasiness they are desperately straining for. Moonreich are another addition to the frankly impressive list of extreme French bands as Terribilis Est Locus Iste [7] lays waste to all around. Sickeningly heavy and almost unbearably unrelenting in its ferocity, this is certain to find favour with fans of Blut Aus Nord, Celeste et al.

For the quieter, more reflective moments you can't do much better at the moment than Onkalo [8], the latest full-length from Petrels. Soaring like their namesakes, glorious experimental soundscapes drift from light to dark and back again with sublime ease, the electronic blips and pulsating beats having an organic quality that many strive for, but few can attain. And in the penultimate twenty minute epic 'Characterisation Level', we may just have one of the finest individual compositions so far this year. On a slightly glitchier note, Fiocz sets about building and manipulating the ordinary into the unusual on Social Cognition [5]. Punctuated with some smart ideas, the overuse of the same tricks and general homogeny of the record allows it to slip too far into the background too quickly.

Important Records are digging up old treasures again, with the latest find being Samtvogel [7] from Gunter Schickert. This easy-going slice of 70s krautrock fits right in alongside his more illustrious contempories, and will delight aficionados of the legendary scene. Originally released in 1974, and remarkably completed using just three tape recorders, it stands out due to the complete absence of percussion – not that it detracts from the signature rhythmic pounding in the slightest. After a strained and decidedly ropey start to Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo [5], Hey Colossus begin to settle into a similar kosmische pattern, albeit a heavier and thoroughly modern variant. But there is an inconsistency to the quality of the songs and some terrible vocals that conspire against what is, at its heart, a thoroughly decent album full of bounding cosmic jams driven on by thumping motorik beats.

After the mess that ensued from the departure of their original vocalist, a collective breath was held as to whether Heights could even match the excellence of their debut. Old Lies For Young Lives [7] is certainly different, with Alex Monty having a broader range of styles that the new songs reflect, but the bread and butter aggressive shouts that suit the band's metallic hardcore style are not up to the standard they once were. That doesn't stop this being a good album, not by any stretch of the imagination, and continues to show exactly why these guys are at the vanguard of new British metal. Across the Atlantic, Terror are issuing a rallying cry to the hardcore mob to Live By The Code [4]. Bristling with pent-up anger and a sense of righteousness, one can't help but think that they are somewhat preaching to the converted. Although tempered by a feeling of mischievousness, knowing the band are having fun doing this, the record still sounds not only like all their others, but most of the scene too.

Not so much a dark star as a black hole, the standout album this month is Abandon All Life [8] from Nails, featuring none other than Todd Jones, formally of Terror. It might only be eight tracks spanning a mere seventeen minutes, as is the wont of many hardcore bands, but much more and it would surely implode under its own weight. This is a monumentally heavy record, the visceral riffs flaying the skin from your bones as they fly out at a million miles an hour. Abandon All Life sucks you in and pulls you apart with such ruthless efficiency, even though it is over in a flash you are left exhausted yet exhilarated by the aural joyride. Let's go round again!

Cathedral – The Last Spire (29th, Rise Above Records)
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – Mind Control (15th, Rise Above Records)
Ghost B.C. – Infestissumam (8th, Republic Records)
Gloryhammer – Tales From The Kingdom Of Fife (1st, Napalm Records)
Cough/Windhand – Reflection Of The Negative (15th, Relapse Records)
Coma Wall/Undersmile – Wood And Wire (1st, Shaman Recordings)
Across Tundras/Lark's Tongue – Split (22nd, Cavity Records)
Whitechapel – The Somatic Defilement (15th, Metal Blade Records)
Deathchain – Ritual Death Metal (8th, Svart Records)
Amorphis – Circle (22nd, Nuclear Blast)
Altar Of Plagues – Teethed Glory And Injury (29th, Candlelight Records)
Asofy – Percezione (29th, Avantgarde Music)
Moonreich – Terribilis Est Locus Iste (29th, ATMF)
Petrels – Onkalo (1st, Denovali)
Fiocz – Social Cognition (29th, Glass Reservoir)
Gunter Schickert – Samtvogel (22nd, Important Records)
Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo (1st, MIE)
Heights – Old Lies For Young Lives (29th, Transcend Music)
Terror – Live By The Code (8th, Century Media)
Nails – Abandon All Life (1st, Southern Lord)

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