Dark Hemyspheres: March 2016

Initial listens of the new Blood Ceremony offering Lord Of Misrule [7] left me a touch deflated, the lack of bashful melodies and killer riffs had me wondering where the band who wrote 'Daughter Of The Sun' was. But give it more time and that whimsical spark emerges, the folksy playfulness sprinkling the music with a little fairy dust. Sounding ever more English (they are from Canada...) this is a joyous celebration of 60s psychedelia, darkened by a hint of Sabbath-esque menace to balance the mischievous sweetness. The recurring theme throughout this month has been disappointment from those whom I have been expecting the most, and Black Shape Of Nexus fall as flat as any of them. Carrier [5] is big step backwards for a band that last time around delivered a visceral blow to all who heard it; this on the other hand is as middle of the road as funereal doom can get. Now lacking the raw low-end smash that once made them so devastating, the decidedly average and repetitive songs give nothing to get excited about.

Relentless and powerful are the watch words for the sophomore Vredehammer album. Violator [6] is a short and very sharp shock, buzzing guitars and guttural vocals in the manner of modern day Scandinavian black metal barrel out in an avalanche of bile and hatred. This is a giant leap forward from their debut, and although it might not have the quality to differentiate itself from the ever-growing pack, it is still an enjoyable and accomplished final product that leaves the listener a touch breathless once the assault is over. I like the premise of Skáphe, but the execution of this wall-of-sound take on black metal doesn't quite live up to that hope. The major problem with Skáphe² [4] is the poor sound; yes there is a good rumbling bass deep down and plenty of treble skittering up top, but with little middle it sounds hollow, leaving it nowhere near as overwhelming as it should be. This in turn exposes the one-dimensional aspect of the writing, resulting in a frustrating and disappointing experience.

Mugstar are one of the leading lights of the English kraut/psych scene, and return now with the ambitious double album Magnetic Seasons [7]. The first set is full of driving motorik beats and euphoric wah-drenched wigouts, an absolute delight for anyone with even a remote interest in the style. The second half is more ambient-led and spacey, and although not without some fine ideas the band unfortunately have a tendency to lose their way as this meanders along; after the raucous beginning, the highlights here are drawn out too far for too long. Recorded at the same time as last year's first part, K-X-P are finally letting us in on III Part 2 [7]. Whilst hardly a monumental shift, this is darker and more industrialized as it steps away from the poppier tilt of before into murkier waters. Still driven by the thumping 4/4 beats and banks of 80s synths, there is a greater sense of panic, a wildness to the music not often found in these parts; as we get towards the end of the adventure the atmosphere is claustrophobic and tense before the inevitable, terrifying and cathartic crash.

The latest Boris With Merzbow collaboration, Gensho [6], moves into gimmick territory by having each play their contributions on separate discs and leave it up to us to mix the two together. Boris' side sees them rerecord older material as a "drumless trio"; the results are a bit mixed, but the long heavy drones in the likes of 'Huge' and 'Vomitself' are monstrous. Merzbow is up to his old tricks as deafening levels of feedback come screeching and screaming out of the speakers, sounding not too dissimilar to just about everything else he has done. So what about when you put the two together to create the "phenomenon"? It is largely messy, with the latter's noise completely obliterating any subtlety the former conjure, even when turned down considerably in the mix. However it is over those big walls of distorted guitars that this marriage begins to work its magic; the swirling mass is both relaxing and yet paranoid, pulling in opposite directions to create an immense sense of space and density. Alas these sections don't span enough of the final product to consider this too much of a success.

By comparison Chora(s)an Time-Court Mirage, the latest ensemble from electronic pioneer Catherine Hennix, create a superbly immersive eighty minute experience upon Live At ISSUE Project Room [8]. Based around a mesmeric Indian drone, the piece slowly morphs through a variety of both Eastern and Western influences, each one carefully manipulated to coil around the central spine. Despite its extreme length it never feels overlong or boring, instead inducing a state of otherworldly disconnect that even after the event takes time to emerge from. The swell and ebb, in conjunction with the ethereal choral chanting, acts as a modern day lullaby, rocking the senses gently back and forth as a blissful peace seeps in.

This month's Dark Star however goes to another record that completely surprised me; Winter [8] from Oceans Of Slumber. A truly progressive record as it draws in a myriad of influences and moulds a fresh, creative narrative; heavy enough to please the metalheads, folky enough to be more than a token effort and proggy enough to dazzle. The final ingredient is Cammie Gilbert and her stunning voice, a wonderfully soulful sound that is so rarely heard on anything that might appear in this column. She has the power to stand up against the band in full tilt and the emotion to break hearts when it all comes down, delivered with such sweet melodious tones. The cover of 'Nights In White Satin' is a brave move (especially when putting it as track three), and even after repeated listens I am not entirely sure; although this is a damn fine rendition, and one that fits right in with the flow of Winter, the original is just so special. I might not have realised it immediately, but Oceans Of Slumber have produced something that will stay with me long after this column is put to bed.

Blood Ceremony – Lord Of Misrule (25th, Rise Above Records)
Black Shape Of Nexus – Carrier (18th, Exile On Mainstream)
Vredehammer – Violator (18th, Indie Recordings)
Skáphe – Skáphe² (11th, I, Voidhanger Records)
Mugstar – Magnetic Seasons (4th, Rock Action Records)
K-X-P – III Part 2 (18th, Svart Records)
Boris With Merzbow – Gensho (18th, Relapse Records)
Chora(s)an Time-Court Mirage – Live At ISSUE Project Room (18th, Important Records)
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter (4th, Century Media Records)

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