Dark Hemyspheres: May 2013

With the summer ales and Pimms out in force, we had that rare beast indeed: a hot and sunny bank holiday. But with the clouds forcing us all back indoors and sunshine pop becoming an ironic prayer, it's that time of the month to sate the inner demon – the Devil does have all the best tunes after all.

Top of the most wanted list in May is The Manuscript [8], and My Dying Bride continue to spoil us with their gloriously depressing brand of despair. Their third release inside a year, the Yorkshire doom-mongers have hit a stunningly rich vein of form, and this half-hour EP is just bursting with an oppressively heavy air that will darken even the most optimistic of souls. The creeping guitars and haunted yelps send continuous waves of shivers down the spine as it grabs you in the pit of your stomach in a way only maestros, both in music and horror, can. Also following up a fine album from last year, Hexvessel's brand of folksy doom takes a leap forward with Iron Marsh [7]. A far more cohesive and solid affair, this little gem is really like no-one else around. A sprinkling of magical fairy dust over the snow-swept folk and chilly doom-laden acoustic guitars creates a gateway to a sleepy yet slightly disturbing dreamland.

It is very much a case of the good, the bad and the ugly within the death metal scene. Pick of the bunch is definitely Scars [7], the debut from The Resistance. Formed by the ex-members of several influential Swedish bands, their pedigree is on show for all to hear as they sprint through forty minutes of meaty, bloody slabs of sickeningly fun music. Immolation rather fail to live up to that with album number nine Kingdom Of Conspiracy [4]. To label it as bad may be a touch harsh, but this is a record that is only really going through the motions. All the elements are in the right place – blistering guitars, demonic vocals, machine gun drums – but there is little emotion or colour to the music, and it gets a touch dull too easily. The ugly side of the triangle is Entrails and their third attempt at resurrecting the Gothenburg sound. Having been around at the time but never satisfied with their recordings, a quarter of a century on Raging Death [3] only sounds, and looks (even their logo is a straight rip-off of Entombed), like a third-rate knock off. As their name suggests, not fit for human consumption.

This month also sees the return of TesseracT. Having almost single-handedly kicked off the djent scene, they then managed to miss the entirety of the short-lived party as they went through another half dozen singers before finally settling on the fantastic Ashe O'Hara. The heavy staccato guitars are still very much in abundance, but Altered State [7] is a much more proggier and well-rounded record than their debut, with Ashe giving it a balance that shows maturity far beyond their infant career. Far less even is Coal [6] from Norwegian proggers Leprous. The first four tracks are not much more than the band sounding just a little too much like Devin Townsend to be comfortable. But come the second half, and in particular the closing pair of 'Echo' and 'Contaminate Me', this transforms into a dark and gritty album bristling with a malevolent atmosphere meticulously crafted.

It has been a while since I've actually laughed at how bad an album is, but Ogdru Jahad have finally broken that duck. I [1] is a truly abysmal effort at "kvlt" black metal, with every cliché appallingly hacked at. A lo-fi sound that is as clear as gloopy mud with no bass whatsoever; monotone songs that all sound identical; faux anti-religious imagery, it's records like this that only serve to enforce the horrible stereotypes we constantly rail against. A much more progressive offering comes in the shape of Omega Arcane [6]. Initially a pretty unrelenting blast, Shade Empire begin to open up and weave a few different hues of black into the musical tapestry, with massive banks of synths and even the odd acoustic guitar and flute adding some depth. The album may prove to be a touch overlong in hindsight, but is a genuinely interesting listen. Control Human Delete don't manage quite so well, with The Prime Mover [5] somewhat dragging its feet as the band flirt with a more modern brand of black metal without ever fully embracing it. A clean sound and decidedly proggy elements intrigues, but a bland autonomy blights the album and it quickly drifts into ambivalence.

What's this, yet more superlative hardcore courtesy of Southern Lord? Flying out of Belgium with all fists and feet flaying in a tornado of musical violence, Hessian really are in impact band. With a rich and extreme history amongst the four exponents, it should come as no surprise that Manegarmr [7] is both monumentally heavy and really rather good. Chainsaw guitars, thunderous drumming and inhuman vocals, all shooting through at the speed of a bullet, the phrase "punishingly relentless" hardly seems to do the record justice. At the other end of the hardcore spectrum we have the very English These Monsters. Heroic Dose [4] is still loud and shouty, but by comparison there is still that element of reservation that stops the band truly cutting loose and laying waste to entire cities. As a consequence the record feels stilted and unfulfilled, more temper tantrum than biblical bile.

Italians Zolle release their self-titled debut this month, but appear to have forgotten to finish it first. Zolle [4] is a procession of hard rocking riffs, but sound more like a demo tape of ideas that are yet to be turned into the finished article. Some of them are really quiet decent saplings, but the homogeny of the record means it grows somewhat stale in short order. ASG do at least manage to construct a well-crafted slab of Southern stoner rock, although Blood Drive [5] does itself lapse into a hazy mediocrity. Enjoyable initially, the dulling effect of the endless mid-paced repetition renders this background music far too swiftly and with far too much ease. Since supporting them the best part of three years ago, I've been rather looking forward to Age Of Taurus unleashing an appropriately monstrous record. Absolutely brimming with doomy riffs and a certain NWOBHM catchiness, Desperate Souls Of Tortured Times [6] is a riotous affair but one that doesn't quite deliver the sheer weight and energy that it probably should, ultimately let down by a weak set of vocals.

No band is as naturally bonkers as Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O., and few as prolific either. In Search Of The Lost Divine Arc [7] sees a return to some more riff-orientated psychedelic jams, drug-fuelled rocket ships to the outer limits revolving around one idea and just going utterly nuts with it. As is common with most of their output it is a little hit and miss, but the supersonic surge of 'Space Speed Suicide' and the Indian infused title track are up there as some of the band's finest work. Hungary's answer to this madness VHK (Galloping Coroners) is back after a thirteen year absence with Bite The Stars! [6]. While they might not reach the astronomical heights of their Japanese counterparts, neither do they hit the dreary lows, attaining a much more consistent, albeit slightly less interesting, level of bizarreness that allows you to enjoy the surreal aural delights on offer.

The latest instalment in the superlative Latitudes sessions is courtesy of Aidan Baker With Plurals. Glass Crocodile Medicine [7] (we don't know either...), formed of two side-long explorations in aural hypnotism, is a beautifully meditative experience as waves of reverb-drenched guitar loops slowly rise like an Escher staircase over bubbling undercurrents of subtle electronics. Masterful in the control of tension, the slow dissolution of 'Turning Children Into Mice' (oh, if only...) is positively euphoric. Duo Adoran feature the same Aidan Baker, this time behind the drums, but fall a long way short of being able to captivate the listener in the same manner. With just bass added to the drums, Adoran [4] is a testing hour that drags on seemingly indeterminably, precious little ingenuity or even variation to bring the music to life. Despite the cover and title, Vision Fortune are about as far from a Spanish flamenco group as you can get. Flicking between steady rock and heavy drones, Mas Fiestas Con El Grupo Vision Fortune [6] is a strange little listen, but one certainly worth sticking around for. Neither half of the equation is particularly ground-breaking, but the band does manage to stitch the two together admirably and unexpectedly.

It appears that Rise Above Records are creeping up in this column regularly of late, but when bands such as Blood Ceremony come back, I am powerless to resist their black magick charms. Album number three The Eldritch Dark [8] is once again a concoction even the most devilish of witches would be proud of, and certainly has me bewitched. I still cannot believe they are not English. So steeped in our folklore and musical traditions are Blood Ceremony, the long shadow of the 70s folk revival and early metal both inform and shape this record. The Eldritch Dark does see a shift towards more psychedelic strains, making this a more challenging listen than its glorious predecessor, but not necessarily a worse one. The only blemish is the multitude of effects often plastered over Alia O'Brien's voice, interfering with her beautifully rich tones in search of that spooky Angel Blake note.

My Dying Bride – The Manuscript (13th, Peaceville Records)
Hexvessel – Iron Marsh (13th, Svart Records)
The Resistance – Scars (13th, earMUSIC)
Immolation – Kingdom Of Conspiracy (13th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Entrails – Raging Death (13th, Metal Blade Records)
TesseracT – Altered State (27th, Century Media)
Leprous – Coal (20th, InsideOut Music)
Ogdru Jahad – I (13th, Iron Bonehead Productions)
Shade Empire – Omega Arcane (6th, Candlelight Records)
Control Human Delete – The Prime Mover (6th, code666)
Hessian – Manegarmr (13th, Southern Lord)
These Monsters – Heroic Dose (27th, Function Records)
Zolle – Zolle (13th, Supernatural Cat)
ASG – Blood Drive (27th, Relapse Records)
Age Of Taurus – Desperate Souls Of Tortured Times (27th, Rise Above Records)
Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso U.F.O – In Search Of The Lost Divine Arc (27th, Important Records)
VHK (Galloping Coroners) – Bite The Stars! (20th, Ektro Records)
Aidan Baker With Plurals – Glass Crocodile Medicine (6th, Southern Records)
Adoran – Adoran (13th, ConSouling Sounds)
Vision Fortune – Mas Fiestas Con El Grupo Vision Fortune (13th, Gringo Records/Faux Discx)
Blood Ceremony – The Eldritch Dark (27th, Rise Above Records)

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