Dark Hemyspheres: March 2013

March is upon us, the miserable weather continues and the mass consumption of chocolate is about to commence (for most at least - I've had a head start...) What possible delights can lure us away from those crispy chocolate egg shells and their gooey, oh-so-tasty inner delights? Can a horde of bearded Europeans slay us with their 'axes' or is there time for one more Creme Egg? Let's see ...

Personally, the most anticipated album this month has been the first full-length from US hardcore monsters Seven Sisters Of Sleep. Opium Morals [8] may lack the sheer ferocity of their first releases, instead going for a sludgier, oppressive sound, but this is still a record that will wreck utter sonic destruction across the land. Call Of The Void up the tempo whilst trying to keep the aggression on debut Dragged Down A Dead End Path [6]. Whilst largely successful, there isn't yet enough in the band's sound to mark them out from the DIY hardcore melee – solid if unspectacular. The reissue of Satanic Threat's sole release In To Hell [3], now with a live show tacked on the end, is a pretty lacklustre dose of thrashy punk. A poor sound fails to mask the nerve-torturing screeches of vocalist Don Crotsley, although the ace cover art made me chuckle.

On the subject of disappointing reissues, I come to the latest in the line of Dio albums to receive the deluxe treatment. Whilst the first three solo albums where suitable monuments to the great man’s work, the effort put into Dream Evil [7/3] is frankly woeful. Yes, the main album is great if not his best, but the bonuses leave a lot to be desired; the entire second disc is simply recycled from other releases in this campaign, with 'Hide In The Rainbow' even being on the last one too! A bit of a travesty that.

In the experimental world, supergroups don't come much bigger than Ensemble Pearl. This highly anticipated, self-titled debut featuring Atsuo, William Herzog, Michio Kurihara and Stephen O'Malley is a complex, enthralling trawl through the decidedly muddy backwaters of rock, drone and electronica. Ensemble Pearl [8] is full of characteristic elements from all four corners, but meet in the middle to create something new and fresh, and very disturbing. Alas, much like their name, From The Bogs Of Aughiska's music is a touch cumbersome. There are some fantastically unsettling moments on Roots Of This Earth Within My Blood [5] as dark ambience collides with black metal, none more so than the fascinating 'An Seanchaí' as a storyteller regales us with his tale. But the lack of a consistent narrative in the record leaves it feeling rough and unfinished. On the flipside the Long Arms [7] 10" from one-woman Brooklyn drone artist Insect Ark is anything but. Three meticulously laid out tracks of lap guitar, bass and electronics create lush, bleak soundscapes full of depth and character.

They might be giants of the genre, but a constant revolving line-up has not helped Chris Barnes create a decent Six Feet Under album for quite a while. Unborn [5] is really just another standard slab of death metal that can be filed under "ordinary" – aggressive, sickening, competent, but instantly forgettable. When it comes to life, The Formulas Of Death [6] from Tribulation is a much more exciting prospect as the grandiose elements of prog are married to the sheer brutality, with even a dash of Arabian mystique too, in an unusual mix. But at well in excess of an hour, they fail to maintain the interest consistently as the record too often slips back into a mediocre second gear. Tormented bring the fun back into their offering, Death Awaits [6]. Revelling in the more gory elements, this may be a somewhat straight up death metal album, but it is a joyously tongue-in-cheek one nonetheless.

In all honesty, the first part was a bit insipid, but Jolly have made amends with The Audio Guide To Happiness (Part II) [7]. Markedly heavier and more vibrant than the predecessor, the band have very much moved into the vanguard of the nu-prog movement with this album as it displays the best the genre has to offer without recycling the tricks of the old guard like many of their contempories do with alarming frequency. Less forward-thinking are Norwegian prog metallers In Vain, with third album Ænigma [5]. Still peddling the same Opeth/Katatonia/My Dying Bride hero worship that is rife in the scene, they do at least do it with a touch of nous and a modicum of musical ability. There is no denying Finns For The Imperium are very talented musicians as they unleash all manner of musical mayhem on Hail The Monsters [4], it is just that the songs aren't that good (even if you gloss over the godawful dance metal trash bookending the album). Very much aligning themselves with the spasmodic, schizophrenic brand of "math" metal that saw its heyday five years ago, this is all about showing off and leaves me very cold.

This won't be the first time I've mentioned it in relation to black metal, and neither will it be the last, but Ov Hollowness exemplify the mind-numbing staleness that plagues large swathes of the genre. The World Ends [4] offers nothing new as it becomes just another one-man critique on how bad the human race is and how stuffed everything is, as if we aren't already bombarded with dozens of identical records each year. Voices, formed from the ashes of Akercocke, at least manage a better fist of it with the wretchedly-titled From The Human Forest Create A Fugue Of Imaginary Rain [6]. Bringing in elements of death metal, unsurprising given their history, the record hits with real menace. Some judicious editing of a few too many overlong passages may have helped in enforcing this, but when they do get it right, this turns into a beast of a record.

Much of the folk-influenced metal coming off the continent of late has come directly out of the black metal scene, and has inherited many of the same issues. Ukranian outfit Paganland have the merest splattering of homeland influences in Wind Of Freedom [5] (a solitary flute does not really count), meaning it struggles to rise above the mire of mediocrity. Finntroll have always shown the way in how it should be done, blending fast-paced, heavy music with home-grown instruments, all tied together with copious amounts of alcohol and dangerous levels of fun. Sixth offering Blodsvept [7] keeps to the same formula again, and whilst this guarantees a highly enjoyable listen, leaves a nagging disappointment that they haven't been a bit more adventurous. But only a little.

This month's dark star was a difficult choice, but coming out as the blackest of all is Moss with their Horrible Night [8]. Album number three is a deliciously heavy, oppressive hour of the slowest, murkiest doom, an unholy sound so low in the spectrum as to make a complete mess of your innards as the waves crawl through. Gone are the epic half hour pieces and demonic growls, instead showing a more refined and mature band able to deploy their ridiculously punishing riffs with ever greater force. This is a record that swallows you up to play out perverted fantasies and freakish nightmares, inducing zombified headbanging, splitting headaches and maniacal grins in equal measure.

Seven Sisters Of Sleep – Opium Morals (18th, A389 Recordings)
Call Of The Void – Dragged Down A Dead End Path (18th, Relapse Records)
Satanic Threat – In To Hell (18th, Hells Headbangers)
Dio – Dream Evil (4th, Universal)
Ensemble Pearl – Ensemble Pearl (18th, Drag City)
From The Bogs Of Aughiska – Roots Of This Earth Within My Blood (18th, Human Jigsaw)
Insect Ark – Long Arms (18th, Geweih Ritual Documents)
Six Feet Under – Unborn (18th, Metal Blade)
Tribulation – The Formulas Of Death (4th, Invictus)
Tormented – Death Awaits (25th, Listenable Records)
Jolly – The Audio Guide To Happiness (Part II) (4th, InsideOut Music)
In Vain – Ænigma (11th, Indie Recordings)
For The Imperium – Hail The Monsters (4th, Graphite Records)
Ov Hollowness – The World Ends (18th, code666)
Voices – From The Human Forest Create A Fugue Of Imaginary Rain (11th, Candlelight Records)
Paganland – Wind Of Freedom (4th, Svarga Music)
Finntroll – Blodsvept (25th, Century Media)
Moss – Horrible Night (25th, Rise Above Records)

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