Dark Hemyspheres: May 2017
Some jokes take on a life of their own, to run on and on and on... No Grave But The Sea  is very much Alestorm and enormously fun because of that, although it has become rather obvious that the ideas are clearly beginning to run low. The lyrics just aren't as clever and funny as they once were – this is the first of their albums to fail to make me laugh – and the language too has become baser and less imaginative. The music has also lost some of its verve; this may be in part to the change in personnel, but it is still disappointing nonetheless. Once again it is the grandiose tales ('To The End Of The World', 'Man The Pumps' and 'Treasure Island') that stand out as the prized treasures as they avoid the worst of the puerile humour, driving along with tongue firmly planted in cheek and proudly flying The Black.
Anyone who is a regularly reader of this column is aware how highly I prize originality, and scoring top marks in that column are Godhunter. Codex Narco  is the latest instalment in a discography that is as interesting and intriguing as it is heavy. Superficially doom-laden hardcore in its foundation, there is too much going on for it to be purely that, despite the album lasting a mere twenty two minutes; the twists and turns are fascinating, immediately crying out for another spin long before you decide if you even like it or not. This is the soundtrack to beautiful destruction in slow motion, a groovy yet poignant unleashing of rage that feels positively cinematic in scope.
However there is nothing slow or beautiful about Trumpeting Ecstasy , the latest barrage from Full Of Hell. Unwavering in its pure hatred of, well, everything, paired with a maniacal onslaught of distortion and blastbeats, the results are a truly bruising encounter. Genuinely violent, this throws punch after merciless punch in a terrifying aural onslaught, the rapidity of which leaves the listener reeling. The strangely haunting female vocals cutting through the title track mark the only respite; but even this is fleeting, laden as they are with the sense of darkened foreboding and the promise of another flailing.
Krautrock might have left the limelight a long time ago, but there remains a strong collective of motorik-loving free spirits still exploring the stars. Based out in LA, duo Barrows are one such entity, and their third full-length Obsidion  is a colourful, magical, swirling journey to the outer reaches. Going for an all-out psychedelic trip, they glide effortlessly from the ambient drones of 'Manna' to the thumping, racing guitars of 'Entrada'. The summation of all this is the glorious twenty minute centrepiece 'Cocoon', a bountiful smorgasbord of all things kosmische; and that bass line...
By the end of the first track I was praying that indeed The End Is Nigh . The debut from Apocalypse Orchestra is a ponderous and monotonous affair, dragging along with a painful deliberateness that is unfortunately befitting of the remarkably unimaginative folk-strewn metal they peddle. Struggling to move along from the most basic of riffs interspersed with some gimmicky hurdy-gurdy, they seem incapable of changing the recipe for the entirety of the long, drawn-out piece. The result is the appearance of it all being one interminable dirge that fades from notice, before becoming increasingly irritating as it refuses to end.
They might be without their founder Leif Edling in person (though he did have a big hand in the songwriting), yet Avatarium continue to deliver doom of the highest quality. May's Dark Star was an easy choice with Hurricanes And Halos  ascending upon high with Jennie-Ann Smith's stunning voice and the razor-sharp guitars. The evolution from lumbering proto-metal monoliths to soulful heavy blues continues to move quickly here; although still decidedly gloomy and dark in atmosphere and tone, the pace is kicked up another notch as yet more melody is added. Not that this is without a dose of sweeping epic pomposity, with 'Medusa Child' especially bridging that gap between the two sides. Of course Hurricanes And Halos is hugely retro in sound, but the wonder comes in how Avatarium make it feel so fresh and vibrant. And in 'The Starless Sleep' they probably have the song of the year so far.
Alestorm – No Grave But The Sea (26th, Napalm Records)
Godhunter – Codex Narco (19th, Battleground Records)
Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy (5th, Profound Lore Records)
Barrows – Obsidion (26th, Tonzonen Records)
Apocalypse Orchestra – The End Is Nigh (12th, Despotz Records)
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (26th, Nuclear Blast Records)