Dark Hemyspheres: February 2017

Whilst compiling January's column, all the exciting releases seemed to fall this month, but getting here I seem laden with the same problem... However not all is lost, as a few gems have indeed decided to sparkle. The first of which is Servus [7], the debut full-length from the gloom-mongers Bathsheba. Although they walk down the recently busy highway of female-fronted, folk-tinged doom, they do so with aplomb; the riffs are hugely satisfying, whilst Michelle Nocon delivers a performance worthy of being burned at the stake for. Rising above so many like-minded lemmings is no small feat, and in doing so they have marked themselves out as something a little special. Alas Unearthly Trance fail to scale to such heights (or should that be sink to such depths?) as they resurface from their slumber with Stalking The Ghost [5]. Although there is nothing fundamentally bad here, it is equally uninspiring; heavy, pounding and depressing as it may be the spark of imagination is notable only by its absence. All we are left with are a band whom times have left behind, giving us nothing we haven't already heard too many times before.

Young Finns White Death are yet another outfit to draw from the old Scandi black metal well; however their opening salvo, imaginatively titled White Death [5], is not to be instantly dismissed. Laying more emphasis on the punk roots of the genre, this is a pretty relentless blast though some old school fun. Mercifully, they have eschewed the horrible lo-fi buzz that still plagues so many, ensuring that this is indeed a fun listen. By contrast, Manetheren follow a much more proggy path on The End [6]. Grandiose and epic are the keywords here as they aim for a sense of isolation and futility, and largely succeed in doing so. It is a fine line between allowing the songs room to grow, to capture fully the desired atmosphere, and allowing them to drift along for too long; whilst the band doesn’t cross it too far, there are times the record drags its feet.

It is warming to hear the great strides bands can make between albums, and in Nightmare Logic [7], Power Trip have made a giant leap. They are now becoming a full-blown, pedal-to-the-metal thrash powerhouse capable of delivering a furious assault over the course of an entire record that is as destructive as it is energetic. The result is still a little one-dimensional, but there is certainly charm in the continuous battery smashing into the ears at lightening speeds. There are few though that can match the sheer gargantuan weight that Xibalba summon up; it may only be ten minutes long, yet the new EP Diablo, Con Amor… Adios [8] is a sledgehammer to the solar plexus. Whether at a slow crawl or in a flurry of six-stringed bullets, it is as if the music is being drawn up from the very bowels of the earth so deep and heavy it is.

I have never quite understood the reverence afforded Six Feet Under, and their twelfth (an impressive feat, nonetheless) studio offering Torment [3] is not about to sway me. These forty five minutes of uninspired, middle of the road death metal feel somewhat jaded and mundane; a case of just going through the motions once again, no matter how monotonous it is becoming. It is acts like this that are so easy to parody, yet this has now turned into one itself. Morta Skuld quietly re-emerged a couple of years ago with an EP, and now it is time for them to finally unleash a new album proper, only a mere twenty years after their last. Wounds Deeper Than Time [6] is deliciously dirty old-school death, a blood-stained sound murky with gore and guts. Although this is hardly much of a deviation from the tried-and-tested, there is something satisfying, almost homely and comforting, about the sickness they have begun peddling once again.

In a rather unlikely collaboration, Spanish post-rockers Toundra have teamed up with flamenco artist Niño de Elche under the banner of Exquirla. The resulting record Para Quienes Aún Viven [9] runs off with this month's Dark Star as it brilliantly forges the two quite disparate styles into a raging yet entrancing album of monolithic proportions. The former bring a host of lush soundscapes that rise and fall beautifully, building upon their excellent recent efforts as they cocoon the listener in graceful, bleak, uplifting and tormented aural musings. But it is Francisco Contreras' incredible voice that lifts this so high above the rest; completely different to anything remotely familiar to me, he adds even more emotional layers to the fraught and raw music which accompanies him. His versatility is breath-taking, ranging from deep dark whispers to huge bellowing calls, it is spellbinding and spine-tingling as he takes the music to places it couldn't otherwise. [ib]Para Quienes Aún Viven[/i] is far bigger than the sum of the parts constituting Exquirla, and we are all the richer for it.

Bathsheba – Servus (24th, Svart Records)
Unearthly Trance – Stalking The Ghost (24th, Relapse Records)
White Death – White Death (17th, Werewolf Records)
Manetheren – The End (24th, Avantgarde Music)
Power Trip – Nightmare Logic (24th, Southern Lord Records)
Xibalba – Diablo, Con Amor… Adios (24th, Closed Casket Activities)
Six Feet Under – Torment (24th, Metal Blade Records)
Morta Skuld – Wounds Deeper Than Time (17th, Peaceville Records)
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aún Viven (17th, Superball Music)

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