Dark Hemyspheres: June 2013

So June, and supposedly the great English Summer, is upon us. The girls are pretty, the barbeques hot and beers cold, but we can't have it being unanimously cheery now, can we? So here are a few tasty dark delights to help battle all that bright, happy sunshine.

Over the last few albums, Megadeth have settled into a comfortable but enjoyable groove of bitter old thrash. But when the title track emerged last month, the fear was that Dave Mustaine had finally lost what little sense he had left. Thankfully it was all a bit misleading, and Super Collider [7] is in fact, that one major blip aside, a politically charged, ballsy record worthy of the name and history it carries.

At the other end of the career scale, Power Trip unleash their debut Manifest Decimation [5]. Absolutely bristling with energy and aggression, it does very well in harking back to those halcyon formative years of thrash. And yet it fails to bring anything new to the party, ultimately being nothing more than an admittedly fun rehashing of decades old ideas. Havok plough a similar furrow on third outing Unnatural Selection [5]. Again unashamedly old school in every manner, the lack of anything approaching imagination begins to wear very thin rather quickly.

I had hoped, even expected, Tristania to be something of a highlight this month, but alas their own brand of joyous gothic metal seems to have gone stale all of a sudden. Darkest White [5] is as flat and lifeless as previous records have been adventurous and deft. The songs aren't as melodious, the energy not as vibrant and the riffs not as crisp as the band have managed to craft to such a high standard throughout their career. This is a surprisingly limp affair from one of the genres leading exponents.

Still, it is not as bad as the painfully dull The Bonding [3] from Edenbridge. It might be their eighth album, but this is simply yet another Nightwish clone, and we certainly don't need any more of them. Even the addition of a real orchestra can't save them, not that you can tell blind that they are real strings, so buried away in the mix are they.

One band you can always rely on to deliver the (decidedly bloody) goods are Autopsy, and The Headless Ritual [8] is another gloriously gory slab of fresh death metal meat. Maturing nicely with age, massive chainsaw guitars and vicious blood-curdling howls flay flesh from bone as tracks like 'Slaughter At Beast House' and personal favourite 'She Is A Funeral' marry uncompromising heaviness with some devilishly good riffs. Often equally reliable and just as much fun are the northern warriors known as Amon Amarth. You know what to expect: epic tales of Norse heroes and gods battling it out for riches and spoils set to a thumping soundtrack of big guitars and Johan Hegg's boisterous Viking war-calls. Deceiver Of The Gods [7] is all that, a fist-pumping, head-banging celebration of myths and legends delivered with pride and power.

Dagoba's approach is much more modern, Post Mortem Nihil Est [5] being a very technical and clinical offering. The introduction of cleaner and melodic vocals amongst the growls into a record that is so deeply encamped in the heavier end of the genre is a brave move, but one that they actually manage to pull off with some success. Let down by a lack of stand-out tracks, it is still a pleasant bash around the head.

Concluding their Blackjazz trilogy with One One One [7], Shining continue to dive headlong into previously uncharted waters. A frankly disturbing mix of black metal and jazz, there is a stronger sense of there being actual songs on this outing, and some damn good ones too. Not as extreme as might be envisioned given the nature of its origins, it still bowls you over with a furious display of extraordinary musicianship and writing, a release certainly not for the fainthearted or comfort-seekers.

Never far away though is the antithesis to all these aural explorations, and this month Pest are the band to serve up another platter of unimaginative black metal clichés. I go on about this a little too much, but it is a real bugbear that albums such as The Crowning Horror [2] are smuggled out by labels who should know better – sounding lo-fi and ripping off Mayhem is not kvlt and cool, it's cheap and tacky! Carrier Flux at least make an effort to move beyond the genre's origins, although Objection [5] doesn't hold the attention long enough to warrant too many repeated listens. Settling too quickly into a familiar groove, the lack of variety across the twelve tracks relegates these quick-fire bursts to background noise.

Once upon a time Queensrÿche were a big deal in the world of prog, effectively launching the metal wing of the genre. But those heydays are long gone, and with internal rifts now leading to two versions of the band, this one have released the band’s thirteenth album. Much like their popularity, the boys have gone soft with the advancing years, Queensrÿche [4] being a trot through soft rock territories in a heavy disguise. The occasional riff harking back to days of yore appears, and promptly disappears when it realises it is out of place here now. Similarly, The Tangent have had their fair share of trouble and strife, but mastermind Andy Tillison has gathered a fresh batch of musicians together for the ambitious Le Sacre Du Travail [5]. A concept record about the daily grind, it has all the modern prog hallmarks as the music jumps from jazz to rock to pop to metal with wilful abandon in multi-section, 20 minute epics. But it is a lengthy haul, eventually pushing beyond the limits of concentration and feeling too much like its subject matter.

Easily the most surprising album this month is Wisdom Of Crowds [8], a project brought about by Bruce Soord with Jonas Renkse. Loosely prog, there is a large dose of trip-hop to shake things up, and it is not afraid to get heavy at times either. A genuinely unique record, it is beautiful and melodic whilst still, unsurprising given the contributors, remorselessly dark.

Talking of collaborations, what do you get if you mix half of Isis with a quarter of Deftones? Palms, that's what. Almost inevitably, this fits squarely into a post-rock hole, but less predictable is how heavy Palms [6] is not. A very bright and treble-focused sound is somewhat piercing to the ears, but that helps lead the listener away from past bands and into the slow, unhurried if slightly uneasy musical musings these four gentlemen create. I did expect a more memorable album than what is presented here, the songs too easily blending into one another and leaving precious little residual impressions once the music has stopped. Scum From The Sun also offer up an interesting treat in the form of 4 [7], the sort of record you really wouldn't expect from a band so named. Four lengthy slices of doom-laden, instrumental post-rock with a keen cutting edge, enhanced by some cleverly used sampled narration, makes for an intriguing and relaxed listen.

In a month bursting with unexpected amusements, another curveball appears from Poltergeist (aka three parts of Echo & The Bunnymen), as they come up with the krautastic Your Mind Is A Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder) [7]. A faithful homage to the kosmische scene in 70s Germany, it ticks all the boxes with its driving motorik rhythms and gleeful bopping riffs; this is an album that focuses on the sheer pleasure that this type of music can and does bring rather than trying to do anything different with it. I am sure it will please many who like to indulge it a spot of krautrocking. Positively drowning in space-age electronic swirls, Vow [6] sees Naam infuse their cosmic wanderings with a melancholic indie air akin to My Bloody Valentine – not so much shoegazing, more stargazing. When at its best, this is a riotous stomp, but a patchy collection of songs means any enjoyment garnered is tempered and interrupted by the all too common troughs.

Originally released last year in Japan for their joint tour, Nadja & Vampillia's studio collaboration The Perfect World [8] has had a makeover and is now readily available for the rest of the world. Built upon the former's sumptuous towering drones that flood the ears with a thunderous racket, I'm not too sure what the latter bring to the recordings beside a few vocals and some fragile piano refrains that play brilliantly against the huge wall of sound. These gentle additions are especially haunting in the twenty minute grand finale of 'Icelight', a monstrous beast of a track in true monolithic glory.

Kawabata Makoto's Mainliner make no such concessions to anything resembling "melody" or "harmony" as they return with Revelation Space [6]. Screaming guitars and wailing feedback are the order of the day from this madcap Japanese axeman and his willing cohorts, an ocean of terrifying noise in which to sink and scour away any last remnants of thought. Equally unhinged but not quite so impenetrable is the wonderfully monikered Dark Buddha Rising. Playing with many different variations of drone across Dakhmandal [7], from minimalistic ambience to enormous tsunamis of guitars, this is a fascinating and ever-shifting descent into audio meditation.

There are a number of terrific albums released this month, but the coveted dark star award must go to Locrian for the beautifully twisted haze that is Return To Annihilation [8]. Sliding some malicious black metal menace into the gaps created by their dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish, ambient drones few albums prove to be quite so unsettling. Drifting from sparse, even bleak fields like those of the first half of 'A Visitation From The Wrath Of Heaven', Locrian will suddenly turn the trip on its head with a blast of harsh dissonance with utterly devastating results. And final piece 'Obsolete Elegies' goes down as one of the finest tracks to emerge this year, taking these elements that define Return To Annihilation and wrapping them up in fifteen minutes of joy, fear, elation and paranoia.

Megadeth – Super Collider (3rd, Tradecraft)
Power Trip – Manifest Decimation (10th, Southern Lord)
Havok – Unnatural Selection (24th, Candlelight Records)
Tristania – Darkest White (3rd, Napalm Records)
Edenbridge – The Bonding (24th, SPV)
Autopsy – The Headless Ritual (24th, Peaceville Records)
Amon Amarth – Deceiver Of The Gods (24th, Metal Blade)
Dagoba – Post Mortem Nihil Est (17th, earMUSIC)
Shining – One One One (3rd, Indie Recordings)
Pest – The Crowning Horror (17th, Agonia Records)
Carrier Flux – Objection (17th, code666)
Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (24th, Century Media)
The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail (24th, InsideOut Music)
Bruce Soord With Jonas Renkse – Wisdom Of Crowds (3rd, Kscope Music)
Palms – Palms (24th, Ipecac Records)
Scum From The Sun – 4 (10th, Avantgarde Music)
Poltergeist – Your Mind Is A Box (Let Us Fill It With Wonder) (17th, Proper Records)
Naam – Vow (3rd, Tee Pee Records)
Nadja & Vampillia – The Perfect World (24th, Important Records)
Kawabata Makoto's Mainliner – Revelation Space (3rd, Riot Season)
Dark Buddha Rising – Dakhmandal (10th, Svart Records)
Locrian – Return To Annihilation (24th, Relapse Records)

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