Dark Hemyspheres: February 2015

I seem to be struggling for something witty to write here as an introduction this month (yes, I am aware that may actually have garnered more laughs than anything previously appearing here). Personally I blame Beer:Geek; he's been dragging me out to bars, breweries and bottle shops throughout January to try all sorts for some campaign. Anyway, time to get down to business and fuss over music made the hard way.

I'll admit I've been rather lax in keeping abreast with what 36 Crazyfists have been up to in recent years, so Time And Trauma [7] has come along to show me that was a mistake. Behind the punchy hardcore bursting with meaty riffs, lie guttural passion and wonderful melodies. There are even some gentler moments - none better than the closing 'Marrow' - that merely up the emotional grief in sublime style. The result is a tumultuous and exhausting journey, but one that is exhilarating enough to keep repeating time and again. The Agonist, on the other hand, have never been able to draw me in – until now. Eye Of Providence [6] is hardly the most revolutionary of records, yet it is enjoyable as new frontwoman Vicky Psarakis's Jekyll & Hyde vocals battle with the furious guitars as to who can be the heaviest, the catchiest or simply win your affections. Neither come out as a clear winner, though this particular fight shows that all parties are making leaps forward and becoming rather interesting. Proof change can be a good thing.

My appreciation of French extreme music has steadily risen over time, and my introduction last year to Parisian hardcore monsters Cowards served only to reinforce that. Sophomore album Rise To Infamy [7] is another fine dose of hyper-violent metallic battery, a ferocious whirlwind of anger-fuelled rapid destruction. Although they don't rush through at break-neck pace for the entirety of the ride, the slower doom-laden passages are no less heavy for it. Across the pond, Call Of The Void conjured a similar excitement with their debut, but alas Ageless [5] is a lesser effor. On the face of it this ticks all the boxes, but in the end there is the realisation that the record is a bit dull and unimaginative. Nothing about the music lodges in the brain, not a single aspect sticks out and becomes memorable; about as middle of the road as a raging torrent of hatred can be.

An Autumn For Crippled Children have been something of an odd one ever since they emerged back in 2010 with their strangely uplifting take on black metal. The Long Goodbye [7] is their fifth album and sees a return to something approaching their best, the songs soaring in a euphoric haze of reverb and fuzz. It is fast, cold, harsh and high-pitched – very much blacker than black – yet utterly unique in eschewing the same old threads of depression and loneliness in favour of blissful solitude. Not making any sense? No, it doesn't, but somehow it works very well indeed. Spanning seventy minutes of almost impossibly dense musings, Ma IoN [6] is more of a challenge to navigate. But Acherontas have put together a record that has a lot to offer, a surprisingly coherent look right across the genre's various strands from primeval brutality to avant-garde menace. It is hugely ambitious and grandiose certainly; though not always successful, it does remain intriguing enough for the majority of the journey.

It has taken them a while to follow up their promising debut but The Resistance are finally on the verge of doing so. To tide us over we have the EP Torture Tactics [5], half a dozen new blasts of very modern death metal, with another four older tracks tacked on the end for no obvious reason. In fact all it serves to show is how the band still sounds exactly the same as they did first time around. This might be a solid half hour dose of gore, and yet it remains decidedly boring and uninspiring. Even more insipid is Chaos Abomination [3], the second full-length from Chile's Atomicide. A meandering trot through the most mundane elements of the genre, the songs are bland and monotonous as they quickly blend into one long splurge of blast beats and identikit riffs. The concepts of originality and dynamics have completely escaped the band, essentially leaving us with a continuous rehash of the most basic death metal building blocks.

The debut Sistere [7] from Izah is an ambitious offering - four tracks totalling 72 minutes of prog-laden doom - that includes a half hour title track to close the piece. And yet they do a fine job of taking the listener on an emotional ride filled with longing and isolation, backed up with some superlative songwriting. It is not all drawn out monolithic guitars and squealing feedback (though there is a lot of that), as all shades of bleak and heavy colour the palette to create a complete picture. Abstracter start equally promising on their new album Wound Empire [5] as they slowly begin to build the tension only to bring it crashing down around us with devastating effects. Unfortunately this appears to be the only trick they know as this settles too quickly into a "rinse and repeat" pattern. As a consequence all four tracks, each hovering around the ten minute mark, blur into sludgy homogeny that is all the more disappointing given the initial promise.

Despite the glut of good albums from across the extreme spectrum this month, there was only ever one candidate for February's dark star – Dead In The Manger. It took a while for their debut EP to get under my skin last year, but once it did it remained on fairly constant repeat and left me looking forward with almost rabid anticipation for the first full-length, Cessation [9]. The twisted lovechild of the most violent strains of hardcore and harsh windswept black metal, this is not a record for the fainthearted. The sound is deep and rich, yet crisp enough for the surprisingly catchy guitars to sink their hooks in without mercy; whilst not exactly hummable, they nonetheless will stick in the brain for days on end. Cessation manages to walk that knife-edge balancing unbridled passion and hatred (which it has in abundance) with maintaining a carefully crafted approach to maximise the impact of such bile. The quieter moments, though no less menacing, serve only to heighten the torrent of anger once the distortion kicks in. Certain songs – even certain sections – will live with you as key moments, will always make you smile no matter what, and in the final four and a half minutes of 'Part VI', I have found another, the pulsating climax to an enthralling and tense mêlée. Dead In The Manger are one of those rare treasures that are so hard to find, but immensely rewarding once you do.

36 Crazyfists – Time And Trauma (16th, Spinefarm Records)
The Agonist – Eye Of Providence (23rd, Century Media Records)
Cowards – Rise To Infamy (9th, Throatruiner Records)
Call Of The Void – Ageless (9th, Relapse Records)
An Autumn For Crippled Children – The Long Goodbye (23rd, Wickerman Recordings)
Acherontas – Ma IoN (23rd, Formulas Of Reptilian Unification) (W.T.C. Productions)
The Resistance – Torture Tactics (23rd, earMUSIC)
Atomicide – Chaos Abomination (2nd, Iron Bonehead Productions)
Izah – Sistere (23rd, Nordvis Produktion)
Abstracter – Wound Empire (9th, Sentient Ruin Laboratories)
Dead In The Manger – Cessation (2nd, 20 Buck Spin)

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