Dark Hemyspheres: May 2015

Looking back, I did not give Bong enough credit at the time for just how good their last album was. In the end, it was one of my favourite releases of 2014 and has become a staple go-to for when I want some mind-scrubbing, monumentally loud, crushing drones. So why has it all gone wrong on We Are, We Were And We Will Have Been [3]? The sound is so horribly thin, 'Time Regained' being little more than a single guitar droning away in the centre for 17 long minutes rather than the surrounding wall of sound from twelve months ago, slipping from dizzyingly hypnotic to plain boring now. Where have the other guitarists gone? There is no life, no depth, no emotion and most importantly no heaviness here, merely a man with an e-bow and a lot of weed. On the second side 'Find Your Own Gods' is a slight improvement (musically, though not sonically) with its bleak, unnerving atmosphere, but the damage is already done.

Prog metal has a tendency to attract supremely talented yet rather narcissistic characters, and it requires bands like Leprous to show them it is not all about how many notes a second you can reach in that ten minute guitar solo. The Congregation [7] is still a display of fine musicianship, but one that defers to the song rather than the other way round. Certainly not as dirty as last time out, it is nonetheless a very dark record playing with fear and paranoia against a lush, heavy background of layered guitars. Finns Seremonia are even more concise for the majority of Kristalliarkki [6]. Mixing in a healthy dose of 70s rock 'n' roll, it rattles along with a carefree groove. Only on the 15 minute opus that is part one of the title track do they throttle back towards a more psychedelic landscape, and in doing so excel themselves far beyond not only the rest of the album but also their first two efforts.

Secrets Of The Sky promise much on Pathway [5] but no less than seven interludes, between equally as many songs, ruins the momentum and diminishes any sustained interest. Which is a shame, as when the band gear up there is some fine doom dirges here; flowing effortlessly between sombre acoustic introspection to full-blown agonising rage, the wide-ranging dynamics render those interludes not only unnecessary but ultimately detrimental. On the other hand, Galvano are relentless over the forty minutes of Trail Of The Serpent [5]. Leaning more towards the stoner end of the doom spectrum, it is resolutely boisterous whilst remaining downbeat. It may be a pleasant listen, but the lack of originality or identity means this fades too easily from memory, leaving little more than a faint impression of riffs, big riffs.

Another band with a high song to interlude ratio are the returning Will Haven. The difference with Open The Mind To Discomfort [8] though is that because the five full pieces are so spectacularly heavy, a minute breather here and there is most definitely needed. The music, with the bass in particular, bulldozers through the brain with stunning ferocity, a hugely satisfying 20 minute blast of modern American hardcore of the most devastating variety. Going much more old school are Tau Cross, something of a hardcore punk supergroup. Featuring alumni from the likes of Amebix, Misery and Voivod, their debut Tau Cross [6] holds few surprises, but plenty of vitriol and fire. The sound of four friends having a blast making a fearsome racket, fans of the parent bands will lap it up as others pass by; a curio it might be, but we can all name plenty of "supergroups" that have done far worse.

I will admit to a bit of a soft spot for the Scandinavian folk metal scene that Korpiklaani have been a large part of for many years. It might not have progressed far from its origins but is still a lot of fun, and Noita [6] is exactly that. Playful jigs pitting violins and accordions against distorted guitars and double bass drums abound, songs about fighting and drinking (I assume, my Finnish isn't very good) with tongue planted very firmly in cheek; it might not be new, but will inspire you to have a few spins round the dancefloor. Continuing their march into traditional folk realms, Rise Above Records have uncovered the gem that is Galley Beggar. Third album Silence & Tears [7] might not be the "next stage of British folk-rock" they claim it is, yet the melodious storytelling is rather charming and highly pleasing. Slight psychedelic and acid tinges lifts this beyond being another 70s revivalist effort, and will very much appeal to anyone with such musical leanings.

The four-way collaboration Celadon [7] between Maja S.K. Ratkje, Jon Wesseltoft, Camille Norment & Per Gisle Galåen was recorded in the Oslo mausoleum of artist Emanuel Vigeland, chosen for its famed acoustics and rich reverb. The cohorts utilise these aspects excellently as they craft three blissful pieces of gentle ambience, slow-moving explorations in sound texture that are as relaxing as they are beautiful. It is not surprising given the location that a certain darkness infuses the music, though it is one that is contemplative rather than nefarious, a study in death rather than a fear of it. Duo Cotton Wolf are far more clinical on third EP Moxa [5] as they carefully plan out and control every beat and glitch. A more uplifting take on much of the IDM scene, the problem here is that it is a case of more of the same, holding on too tightly to their heroes without yet being able to forge their own niche. Hopefully that will come with time, but they need to show more individuality soon.

As disappointing as this month's first album was, Satyricon teaming up with the Norwegian National Opera Chorus for Live At The Opera [8] somewhat makes up for that. This is a band that have successfully transitioned from an early lo-fi black metal forerunner to inventive veteran of the scene on the back of great songwriting and some truly monstrous riffs, elements enhanced dramatically by the sea of voices added on this live recording. That first moment in 'Now, Diabolical' where the chorus add a little flourish is spine-tingling upon the initial listen, and the sense of wonder only grows from there. Many of their peers have had a flare for the theatrical over the years, and Satyricon are as good as any for indulging in the grandiose and bombastic, traits that opera positively revels in. The excitement of something new, something different executed so well is a triumphant joy – a perfect match made in hell.

Bong – We Are, We Were And We Will Have Been (25th, Ritual Productions)
Leprous – The Congregation (25th, InsideOut Music)
Seremonia – Kristalliarkki (11th, Svart Records)
Secrets Of The Sky – Pathway (18th, Metal Blade Records)
Galvano – Trail Of The Serpent (25th, Candlelight Records)
Will Haven – Open The Mind To Discomfort (18th, Artery Recordings)
Tau Cross – Tau Cross (18th, Relapse Records)
Korpiklaani – Noita (4th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Galley Beggar – Silence & Tears (4th, Rise Above Records)
Maja S.K. Ratkje, Jon Wesseltoft, Camille Norment, Per Gisle Galåen – Celadon (25th, Important Records)
Cotton Wolf – Moxa (11th, Strangetown Records)
Satyricon – Live At The Opera (4th, Napalm Records)

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