Dark Hemyspheres: January 2015

After a quiet end to last year in the world of extreme music, the glut of mince pies and mulled wine has led to a sluggish start to 2015 too. With February already shaping up to be a bumper month, January is slipping by in a hazy mix of back-to-work blues and empty pockets. But all is not entirely lost as a few adventurous records manage to stir their stumps on these damp and frosty mornings.

Reading-based thrashers Sylosis were once tipped as the saviour of British heavy metal, a band at the vanguard of a new golden age. Alas that promise has never quite blossomed to its full potential and fourth album Dormant Heart [6] sees them once again falling shy of that initial hyperbole. As age and musical proficiency have grown, the vitriol and drive have declined; there is little bad here, just a lack of unbridled excitement and game-changing imagination they once possessed. Turn that all on its head and you get the new Napalm Death record. Despite Apex Predator - Easy Meat [7] being album number four thousand and something, these Brummies are still very pissed off, and won't let us forget it. An exhausting and bruising listen, the rush of adrenaline is equally exciting as the razor sharp riffs whizz by and the machine gun drums hammer home. In a catalogue as big as theirs - and with such importance to a multitude of genres - the latest instalment won't exactly stick out, but will still please many devotees nonetheless.

Ingested are exactly who you think they will be with a name like that. The Architect Of Extinction [5] is a competent but predictable dose of gory death metal, the cartoon artwork and song titles such as 'I Despoiler' and 'Rotted Eden' are designed purely to shock your mother. This is a very modern take on the genre, with a virtually incessant blitz of chainsaw guitars that offers little relief or variety. Also going for the blindingly obvious are Desert Storm who, funnily enough, prescribe to the desert stoner brand of doom. Their third release Omniscient [4] has a solid, rocking groove throughout that makes it an enjoyable listen, but is forgettable as soon as done. A large dose of hero worship seemingly precludes any sort of inventiveness. The harsh reality is that this could be any one of hundreds of imitators that have emerged over the years.

Rocket Recordings have a proud history amongst the more cosmic psych and kosmische communities, aided recently by their series of split EPs. Collisions Vol. 4 [5] has Italy's Mamuthones facing off against the mysterious and bonkers Evil Blizzard. The first half is the former flitting between lackadaisical krautrock pastiches and third-rate Goat worship that is as tiring as it is boring. The latter, however, get their half off to a blistering start with current live pleaser 'Sacrifice', a fun and explosive dose of heavy motorik craziness. The following remix by stablemates Teeth Of The Sea is ambling by comparison, but the chilly air to the piece is appropriately unsettling and unexpected. Ireland's No Spill Blood can't quite make up their mind as to what they want their synth-laden ditties to accomplish. Debut Heavy Electricity [4] is part industrial bleakness and part kraut madness, with neither sitting overly comfortably with the other. 'White Out' shows they can do grimy urban wastelands well, whilst 'Now II' demonstrates a keen eye for nu-kraut balances, but ultimately this is a bit of an incoherent mess.

Mysterious one-man black metal act Vardan is certainly productive, with Verses From Ancient Times [5] being number 22! It does feel to be something of an apt title, being as this once again holds to many of the founding principles of the genre: bleak atmosphere, high-pitched whines and a complete lack of bass. Whilst there is little to tell this record apart from the three released last year, he remains one of the better exponents of this neanderthal branch of black metal. Much more up-to-date with current recording standards are Ethereal, but alas Opus Aethereum [6] suffers a lack of ambition. A full-bloodied attack on the senses with a weighty sound (backed by a substantial symphonic element), the sheer relentlessness can morph into nothingness, with the lack of dynamics eventually flattening the piece into one large wall of noise. It is very much a heavy, monstrous and brutal noise, but one that quickly loses the "scare" factor.

Spain does not produce many bands that garner recognition outside of their homeland, but Toundra have over the years begun to build a name synonymous with emotive and interesting instrumental post-rock. IV [7] is yet another solid dose of such, laden with soaring atmospherics, haunting introspection and all the other clichés of the genre. But despite these pitfalls the album is a beautiful work of art, one that maintains the interest from start to finish as they glide from light-footed tiptoeing to harsh darkness that rattles along tastefully and skilfully. Even though IV is an instrumental record it is also a concept album, telling the story of a pair of foxes fleeing forest fires; in all honesty there is not much sense of the tale in the whole, although you do begin to pick out sequences that may well be the cubs playing in the sun or a panicked retreat from the advancing flames. Toundra are a band that continue to evolve, one not satisfied to stay stuck in the genre's heyday as many of their contempories seem set upon.

But it is this month's other Hispanic offering that takes the year's first Dark Star as Californians Xibalba deliver another mighty fine slice of violent hardcore in the shape of Tierra Y Libertad [8]. A raging beast of a record, venomous bile gushes out of every pore as they tear through forty five minutes of hatred, drawing upon bloody death metal and despairing doom to add to the burning fires. It is this careful blending of ingredients that makes Tierra Y Libertad such an engaging listen, a whole toolbox of sadistic devices with which to lash out and torture the ears. It is only really the final thirteen minutes of 'El Vacío' that offer any sort of relief from the onslaught, yet even this is a heavyweight affair as Xibalba pile on the grief and lonely solitude to sap away at the battered listener. This is not an easy or relaxing affair by any stretch, but rewarding, and fun to those so inclined, it most certainly is.

Sylosis – Dormant Heart (12th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Napalm Death – Apex Predator - Easy Meat (26th, Century Media Records)
Ingested – The Architect Of Extinction (12th, Siege Of Amida Records)
Desert Strom – Omniscient (26th, Blindsight Records)
Vardan – Verses From Ancient Times (19th, Moribund Records)
Ethereal – Opus Aethereum (26th, Candlelight Records)
Mamuthones / Evil Blizzard – Collisions Vol. 4 (19th, Rocket Recordings)
No Spill Blood – Heavy Electricity (26th, Sargent House)
Toundra – IV (26th, Superball Music)
Xibalba – Tierra Y Libertad (26th, Southern Lord Records)

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