Dark Hemyspheres: April 2016

Despite their ever-evolving line-up, Tombs, under the masterful guidance of Mike Hill, remain one of the most progressive and inventive bands to touch upon the black metal sphere. New EP All Empires Fall [7] is no exception; now expanded to a five piece with a full-time keyboardist, the sound is lush, otherworldly, and punishingly brutal. The balance required to meld the atmospheric and heavy whilst toying with melody, all the while ensuring the record as a whole flows as one is majestic and the results are spellbinding. One-man band Ill Omen also has a good ear for dark, unsettling textures. Æ.Thy.Rift [5], IV's third full-length under this moniker, tries to worm its way into the supressed recesses of the mind, playing on nightmares hidden away like any good horror story. And whilst successful in conjuring up monsters and demons, it lacks that final key to truly scare the listener.

Freed from the expectations and pressures of his original band, Ihsahn started to produce solo records to match and expand upon that legacy. However as time has moved on, the music has suffered. Arktis. [4], when going all guns blazing, shows very little progression from those early outings; and when it slows down it becomes nothing more than middle of the road hard rock, even straying into cheesy "power metal" at times. Simply put, I can find few reasons to return to this album. Long Distance Calling however are full of surprises on their latest TRIPS [6]. Rattling straight into some old-school krautrock to kick off proceedings, you know immediately things have changed. Then comes the introduction of the vocals courtesy of new entity Petter Carlsen; melodic and light, they add a much more uplifting element to the music. Of course there are still plenty of dark, moody instrumental passages throughout, but this is far more about contrast – and both sides benefit from that.

Standing slightly separate from the rest of the Scandinavian folk metal scene, Moonsorrow have always been able to draw me in, and Jumalten Aika [7] is no exception. Grandiose in a manner few can match, these sweeping epics are backed by glorious riffs and a rabid thirst for blood befitting their ancestors. Even if I can't understand the lyrics, there is an air of energetic storytelling permeating throughout, the solemnity and drama evocative enough to summon your own visions. Also not averse to stretching their legs with a few groovy licks are Goatess, who finally return with their second offering. Purgatory Under New Management [6] had a difficult gestation, but the result is a slab of classic stoner doom that isn't entirely backward-looking. Hypnotic and hazy, they do a good job of paying tribute to the genre's forefathers without trying to sound exactly like them, giving the whole piece a much more comfortable and relaxed feel.

Hip-hop is not a frequent visitor to these pages, but then there aren't many acts quite like Dälek. Returning after a seven year (much missed) absence with new pieces in place for the eponymous MC, Asphalt For Eden [8] is no less vitriolic, menacing or visionary than before. A swelling mass of synths and effects-laden guitars build awe-inspiring, monumental walls of sound through which the beats and rhymes dance a tune riling against the ills of this world. Politics, religion, social injustice and violence aren't safe from the razor-sharp tongue of Mr Brooks; eschewing the swagger and cockiness plaguing many who try to make their (often all-too self-serving) voices heard, it is his intelligence and wit that drives these diatribes we should all be taking note of.

Famed husband and wife pairing Aaron Turner and Faith Coloccia have revived their Mamiffer alias with the haunting, ethereal The World Unseen [7]. Unhurried ambiences swirl around Coloccia's sweet, mystical voice to create a stunningly bleak soundscape that is as comforting in its dourness as it is depressing. The central trilogy 'Domestication Of The Ewe' is the crowning glory as it shifts through all shades of grey in its 25 minute span, a breathless and mesmerising odyssey. Menimals [5], the debut record from Menimals, is a fragile affair, a delicate interlacing of shimmering guitars, ghostly synths and translucent brass. Whispered, almost maniacal vocals complete the creepy, shadowy atmosphere that buzzes around the edges of consciousness. But without ever being able to fully grab the attention, darting off round darkened corners every time you concentrate, the lasting effect is ultimately fleeting and empty.

One album soared far and above the rest this month, one bursting with grace, beauty, power and brilliance. The coming together of Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas is the heavenly partnership we never knew we needed, and the result, Mariner [9], is a sublime astral affair that will woo and wow many. Whilst it is clearly a Cult Of Luna record, at the same time it is markedly different; less abrasive and unremittingly dark, there is more space within the music, a more contemplative air that begins to lighten the desolation. And once Julie Christmas gets to work unleashing her breath-taking array of vocal styles – from anguished caustic screams to hushed angelic nothings to playful melodic draws – the results are truly devastating. Emotionally wrought and utterly captivating, Mariner wraps you up and takes you with it as it drives along with an effortless pace and instant familiarity. The highlight of the piece (of the year) is 'The Wreck Of S.S. Needle', a track that easily sits alongside 'Dark City, Dead Man' and 'Leave Me Here' in the Swedes' canon as it combines and flows through all the elements people love about the band, and will adore about this collaboration. Just magical.

Tombs – All Empires Fall (1st, Relapse Records)
Ill Omen – Æ.Thy.Rift (1st, Nuclear War Now! Productions)
Moonsorrow – Jumalten Aika (1st, Century Media Records)
Goatess – Purgatory Under New Management (15th, Svart Records)
Dälek – Asphalt For Eden (22nd, Profound Lore Records)
Ihsahn – Arktis. (8th, Spinefarm Records)
Long Distance Calling – TRIPS (29th, InsideOut Music)
Mamiffer – The World Unseen (1st, SIGE Records)
Menimals – Menimals (22nd, Riot Season Records)
Cult Of Luna & Julie Christmas – Mariner (8th, Indie Recordings)

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