Dark Hemyspheres: April 2015

In a particularly bare month in the world of extreme music, a rare bright spot is the rebirth of the iconic Music For Nations label. Although given their rich and heavy history - much hailed in the accompanying press releases - picking Anathema for their first set of reissues seems a little odd. Not that Fine Days [7] isn't a nice collection of three rather excellent albums, but they are not the archetypal MFN band with label-defining releases. Both Judgement and personal favourite A Natural Disaster have merely had a remastering polish, whereas A Fine Day To Exit now includes the track 'A Fine Day' to open, prompting a complete re-ordering throughout. A little disconcerting at first for those who have been used to the original for many years, it certainly does not detract from the record as a complete piece. Still, the sentiment remains – welcome back, old friends.

It is reassuring to know Sigh are still completely and utterly bonkers. They might not be quite as madcap as they once were, but on Graveward [6] that has been substituted to an extent with an infectious, bouncing sense of childish enjoyment. Coupled with the basic black metal premise makes this a highly confusing yet equally fun blast. New guitarist You Oshima seems largely responsible for this, but his final mixing of the tracks leaves a lot to be desired. It is bands like Throes that still give me hope for the future of the genre. Their debut Disassociation [7] retains the chilling, malevolent atmospherics without relying on lo-fi hero worship. They do indeed go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum by laying down a thick and oppressive sound that is far more effective in creating illusions of loneliness and despair whilst still causing involuntary bouts of headbanging.

Swedes Tribulation have thrown something of a curveball with their third outing The Children Of The Night [4]. What is immediately apparent is the sheer swagger they have brought this time around. Barely recognisable from the grandiose death metal of their sophomore, the vocal style is about the only constant as they strut their way through an album drawing more upon the retro stylings that many of their countrymen have been plundering for the last decade. This brand of metal is certainly more in vogue currently, but it smacks of a cynicism. There are definitely no such surprises from Apophys as they deliver a record of straight up modern tech-death that is as brutal as it is unoriginal. Prime Incursion [5] might be their debut as a quintet, but all are veterans of the Dutch scene - and sound like it. Proficient, pleasant, and instantly forgettable.

Returning after a ten year absence, it is like no time has passed for Acid King at all. Zoned out and moodily brooding, Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere [5] would be considered a highly derivative stoner record if it hadn't been produced by one of the early exponents. But that does show up something of a lack of progression as the trio exhibit little more than subtle variations in otherwise familiar terrain. Showing an even greater tendency to stick in the mud are Undersmile with their second dirge-laden effort Anhedonia [3]. Taking traditional doom further than even they can stretch it, these 80 minutes plod torturously by in a dull procession of simplistic riffs played as slow as they can manage, the promise of their debut eroded at an excruciating pace. With no effort to explore dynamics or play with tension, the whole piece descends into a bland, dimensionless splurge that can't end soon enough.

It's been 15 years since Justin Hock and Thomas Schlatter last wrote together, but now they have reunited and formed NY In 64. The distillation of You And I with local friends East Of The Wall has led to the debut NY64 [7], an enjoyably and energetic run through instrumental post-rock territory. The music is given extra drive by the broiling undercurrent of hardcore bile the former pair have imprinted in their collaborative DNA, enlivening it beyond much of the stale detritus the scene kicks up these days. With RKTKN#2 [5], Belgian four piece Raketkanon not only mix these two but add flourishes of krautrock into their particularly noisy concoction. Alas the results are somewhat messy and underwhelming, a mediocre din where each disparate element flattens out the niceties of the others. Threatening always to twist down unusual corridors, the failure to actually venture anywhere new ultimately proves its downfall.

The only new release that has raised even an appreciative eyebrow from me this month has been The Crash & The Draw [8], the first album from Minsk in half a dozen years. Wave after wave of sludgy riffing rises over tension-building atmospherics and fragile interludes; nothing here is rushed as the songs are given space and time to fill the silence and envelope the listener in a gloomy haze of bitterness, isolation and depression. For more than an hour the oppression is almost overwhelming, teetering just the right side of the line to keep the audience enraptured, unable to tear away in morbid fascination.

Anathema – Fine Days (13th, Music For Nations)
Tribulation – The Children Of The Night (20th, Century Media Records)
Apophys – Prime Incursion (6th, Metal Blade Records)
Sigh – Graveward (27th, Candlelight Records)
Throes – Disassociation (20th, Naturmacht Production)
Acid King – Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere (20th, Svart Records)
Undersmile – Anhedonia (6th, Black Bow Records)
NY In 64 – NY64 (6th, Magic Bullet Records)
Raketkanon – RKTKN#2 (13th, KKK Records)
Minsk – The Crash & The Draw (6th, Relapse Records)

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