Dark Hemyspheres: February 2016

How much leeway should you give to a band in the twilight of their career? For All Kings [6] is certainly not Anthrax at their ferocious best, but equally it is hardly a terrible album. If a set of young guns released this, it would be panned for being dated and lacking exuberance; but for men in their fifties it's a great effort running (fairly) true to their illustrious past. There is too much cheesy middle-of-the-road bland rock to extol this as a classic, however there are enough killer riffs to mark it out as more than worthy of a little time and exploration. Alas the same cannot be said of Gehennah's latest. Too Loud To Live, Too Drunk To Die [3] is the musical equivalent of teenage boys smashing bottles over their own heads – moronic, juvenile and very unfunny. Not so much thrash as drunkenly staggering around a deserted pub, their worshipping of Mötorhead is tiresome and dull, ultimately doing a disservice to the those they respect the most.

Voivod are another band that have struggled through thick and thin to continue what they love to do. And maybe because of that they find comfort in the familiar, as Post Society [5] surely is. Delving ever further back into the thrash/prog crossover that they were pivotal in constructing first time around, this is a crowd-pleaser without troubling itself to break new ground; not necessarily a bad thing, just a little disappointing for a band priding themselves on being progressive. And don't mention the cover of 'Silver Machine'... The debut Headspace record was a bold and refreshing slice of modern prog, which makes All That You Fear Is Gone [4] all the more frustrating. Feeling every one of its 73 minutes, the bright sparks – once again typically when they turn up the heaviness – are too far strung out to overlook the swathes of "landfill prog" filling the gaps. Between trying to add odd genres such as country or flamenco and paying tribute to the bands of yore, the results are confused and messy.

There is something of an Iberian flavour to this month's black metal picks, and for a region that throw up precious few noteworthy contributors, it's a pleasant surprise to hear two come along at once. From the Spanish side we have Altarage and their debut Nihl [7], an uncompromising wall of blast-beat driven destruction. Utterly bleak and freezing in atmosphere, this is equally heralded for having a full and dense sound that hammers home the violence and despair all the more brutally. And from Portugal we are treated to A Desolação [7] from Ocerco. Whilst only an EP, the seamless flow back and forth from relentless rage to desolate, brooding textures is both exquisite and crushing. Once again proving that you don't have to have a lo-fi sound to create a horrifying world for the listener, this pair show that the genre can look forward and triumph.

To say that Contritions [6] from Cult Of The Lost Cause is in essence a bunch of riffs being, er, riffed upon might seem disingenuous, however close to the truth it might be. Make no mistake though, this exercise in instrumental post-rock playfulness is a very enjoyable listen with its big guitars and rather catchy melodies bubbling underneath the distortion. That's the charm here, the lack of pretention and showmanship giving way to a bit of noisy fun. Dutch instrumentalists Hemelbestormer attempt to take it down a notch or two deeper with their particularly doom-laden jams on their debut Aether [5]. Epic and grandiose in style, it is a shame that they fail to live up to their name (translated as someone with revolutionary views), the music following the well-worn funereal paths. There is little otherwise to disparage about the record, yet by the same turn there is not much to draw me back for repeated listens.

Since their emergence five years ago, I have come across few bands quite as vicious as Seven Sisters Of Sleep. Part of the vanguard of the emergent super-heavy American hardcore scene, it is pleasing to see them being picked by a label as illustrious as Relapse for the release of Ezekiel's Hags [8], their second full-length. Here they continue a slow progression away from the rabid, faster-than-thou onslaught of early works with the greater use of doomier elements, beating down on the listener with weight as well as raw power. Of course there are still plenty of savage lightning attacks scattered throughout with the likes of opener 'Jones' and the galloping highlight 'War Master'. Ezekiel's Hags is murder by suffocation, designed for maximum torment; whether it be the towering, ominous stalking of 'Denounce' or the feedback-drenched finale of the ten minute 'Bastard Son', Seven Sisters Of Sleep have delivered another killer blow in a rampage that we hope doesn't end any time soon.

Anthrax – For All Kings (26th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Gehennah – Too Loud To Live, Too Drunk To Die (12th, Metal Blade Records)
Voivod – Post Society (26th, Century Media Records)
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone (26th, InsideOut Records)
Altarage – Nihl (26th, Iron Bonehead Productions)
Ocerco – A Desolação (5th, Signal Rex)
Cult Of The Lost Cause – Contritions (26th, Sailor Records)
Hemelbestormer – Aether (19th, Debemur Morti Productions)
Seven Sisters Of Sleep – Ezekiel's Hags (5th, Relapse Records)

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