Dark Hemyspheres: February 2013

With life returning to some sense of normality after snowmaggeddon, the dreary British winter is in need of something suitably bleak and dark to soundtrack the endless grey days. This month offers up a plethora of possibilities with something old and something new, something borrowed and something blue.

Two underground classics re-emerge in the coming weeks. The final Godflesh album Hymns [7] might not live up to the astral highs of earlier efforts, but is still a crushing and unsettling affair. Boosted by a second disc of demos whose new mixes make them denser than the final pieces, plus a passable unreleased track, makes this a worthy addition to any fans’ collection. Mysticum were an early part of the infamous Norwegian black metal scene, although their only album - 1996's In The Streams Of Inferno [6] - is largely overlooked nowadays. This timely reminder (a new record is supposedly on its way) should illustrate why much was made of them at the time; with a crisp sound and chilling atmosphere it shows a skill and maturity ahead of many at the time.

Things are looking bright at the heavier end of the prog spectrum currently. Having previously dipped a toe into the genre on their last couple of albums, Humanfly dive in at the deep end with Awesome Science [8]. A sharp and incisive record, the Leeds four-piece manage to make ten minute epics catchy whilst not letting a few musical chops get in the way of some frankly damn good songs. Fellow Yorkshire lads The Prophecy are also up to album number four with Salvation [6], their doom-laden proggy dirges still echoing the ilk of Opeth and My Dying Bride in a competent, if slightly unimaginative, way. They might have the worst moniker ever, but New Keepers Of The Water Towers have come up with a little gem in Cosmic Child [7]; soaring vocals and crunching riffs bring to mind the likes of Mastodon, but a frisson of psychedelic spaciness marks this out as something a bit different.

Love is in the air with the most vomit-inducing of saints' days impending, so why not woo your heart’s desire with some equally appropriate music? Devourment offer up the after-dinner entertainment with Conceived In Sewage [4], forty minutes of disgusting and depraved death metal that alas is ultimately derivative and disappointing too. Cube 3 [4], Supuration's concluding element to a trilogy of albums, is an equally uninspiring stab at the more technical side of things. There's no denying their ability, but the passion, energy and bile is simply not there. Fairing much better are Poles Hate with their eighth album Solarflesh [6]. This dark and brutal affair is no great shakes but batters on relentlessly in a savvy display of deliciously heavy music.

And what about for those us alone at this time of the year? For something suitably grim and depressing, there are two records fitting the bill out this month. The first is Altaar’s self-titled debut [7], two monumental slabs of thunderous doom metal. Crawling from crushing riff to crushing riff at a pace too slow to measure, it wallows in a deluge of undiluted misery. Equally morose is Kiasma [7] from Yankee solo project Oneirogen. A subtle blend of metallic guitars and ethereal electronics, it builds mystical bridges between doom, ambient and drone music in a manner to inspire both wide-eyed awe and heart-sinking despair.

Folk and metal have become very cosy bedfellows over the last few years, and they are not afraid to try many varied and different positions, as this trio of albums aptly demonstrates. Cnoc An Tursa fuse some traditional Scottish jigging with a bunch of beastly thrash riffs on The Giants Of Auld [5], albeit not always successfully. I might have softened my opinion of Ancient VVisdom marginally since lambasting their debut, but not enough to see Deathlike [4] anything but a dour and dull record. Drifting along on lackadaisical guitars, it neither engages nor terrifies the listener, leaving us endlessly waiting for the proverbial punch line. Taking a far more psychedelic approach, the new EP Astral Sabbat [6] from Jess And The Ancient Ones is a lively ride through the cerebral cosmos. A bright cover of Shocking Blue's 'Long And Lonesome Road' is backed by a fifteen minute jam in the shape of 'More Than Living' which leaves the mind suitably bent upon its conclusion.

As for something borrowed, a clutch of bands very much going for the retro angle are back this month too, with decidedly variable results. The pick of the bunch are Enforcer, third album Death By Fire [6] still having that zip and enthusiasm that has bought them many plaudits since their debut. Still sounding an awful lot like Iron Maiden in their pomp, there is no denying vocalist Olof Wikstrand has a rather magnificent set of lungs in him. The same cannot be said for Venomous Maximus' Gregg Higgins, who’s strained and dissonant efforts mar an otherwise solid album in Beg Upon The Light [4]. Aussies Raven Black Night have spent a while readying album number two, but it’s hard to work out quite where the time has gone. Barbarian Winter [4] is a rather stale and cliché-ridden effort, a passable homage to the kings of yesteryear such as Black Sabbath and Mercyful Fate without ever offering new or interesting.

The undisputed highlight of this month comes from Finnish black metal experimentalists Sink. The Holy Testament [8] is a challenging, difficult and disturbing listen for the entire duration of its two discs, but is an album that is expertly moulded and a highly rewarding experience. Harsh, buzzing guitars crash against nightmarish electronics in a world filled with paranoia and darkness, an aural pursuit down twisted alleyways to soundtrack the creepiest of Lovecraft’s tales – certainly not for the faint of heart.

Godflesh – Hymns (18th, Sony Music)
Mysticum – In The Streams Of Inferno (25th, Peaceville)
Humanfly – Awesome Science (11th, Brew Records)
The Prophecy – Salvation (4th, code666)
New Keepers Of The Water Towers – Cosmic Child (18th, Listenable Records)
Cnoc An Tursa – The Giants Of Auld (25th, Candlelight)
Ancient VVisdom – Deathlike (4th, Prosthetic Records)
Jess And The Ancient Ones – Astral Sabbat (25th, Svart Records)
Devourment – Conceived In Sewage (18th, Relapse Records)
Supuration – Cube 3 (25th, Listenable Records)
Hate – Solarflesh (4th, Napalm Records)
Altaar – Altaar (25th, Indie Recordings)
Oneirogen – Kiasma (25th, Denovali Records)
Enforcer – Death By Fire (4th, Nuclear Blast)
Venomous Maximus – Beg Upon The Light (4th, Occulture Records)
Raven Black Night – Barbarian Winter (18th, Metal Blade)
Sink – The Holy Testament (11th, Svart Records)

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