Dark Hemyspheres: November 2013

As I write this, the air is thick with smoke as explosions ring all around. You can’t beat a good fireworks night to bring out the little warmongering kid in us all. Death! Destruction! Bloodshed! Which brings me smoothly onto November's picks…

Orchestral strings rarely make more than a fleeting appearance in this column, but this month nothing is more exciting than the release of the soundtrack to classic 1960s horror Witchfinder General [8]. Paul Ferris' seminal work is as creepy and unsettling as the film it scores, every piece immediately dragging you into the scene and the wrought emotions it conjures. Some of the cues have an air of the music normally found in westerns, but if you know the film and its almost unique use of the English countryside, they make perfect sense. This smartly packaged reissue even unearths two unheard bonus tracks from the vaults, turning what might be a curiosity piece into an essential purchase for anyone with an interest in classic film soundtracks.

Continuing with the string theme, Apocalyptica are back. Recorded live back in July Wagner Reloaded – Live In Leipzig [7] takes on the great composer's work and is reshaped to tell a theatrical story (that we cannot see...) It took a while for the record to grab me, but after a few spins I was enraptured by the cellos and the elegant ease with which the band, now approaching their music from the opposite direction, flow from traditional classical to their distorted vision. And in a move that will certainly please old fans, the album is entirely instrumental for the first time in years.

Few bands ever make it past album three, so the fact Motörhead have made it to 21 is extraordinary. Even more stunning is that Aftershock [6] is actually quite good! Beyond that though, there are no surprises, this is classic Lemmy and co. doing what they do best, a collection of boisterous drinking songs with a catchy tune and a snarl of the lips. There's no particular stand-out or anthemic track, but neither is there an especially duff one; a comforting winter warmer for the rebel inside. Similarly, Melvins have been around the block a few times. Making his debut on a full studio album, original drummer Mike Dillard is back in the band after 30 years for Tres Cabrones [5]. A couple of old demos from that era get a makeover, but this is largely new material from the rejigged trio. The band's inimitably quirkiness is in full effect, but the record never really gets into top gear. This is the sound of three old friends jamming out a few strange rockers, and that looseness ultimately means this wanders about a tad aimlessly and incomplete.

In a month where the old guard are coming out fighting, Deicide continue their homicidal return to form with In The Minds Of Evil [6]. The fiery anti-religious bile is still very much in abundance, with appropriately blistering solos to match. It's a fun listen, but in truth this is nothing more than just a solid death metal album. Pestilence are also back with their third post-reunion record in the shape of Obisdio [5]. The same accusation can also be levelled here, the sense being this is a band still doing what they've always done. Of course the music is meticulously executed, but in truth this is a little dull as it completely fails to captivate the listener. The situation with Circle is confusing to say the least (I think the name is being lent out), but whatever, Incarnation [6] is a bold and twisted take on the genre. It starts off conventionally enough, before quickly falling into a heavy psychedelic freak out. This pretty much sets the blueprint for the rest of the album, a weighty and hypnotic trip.

The French are often the butt of many a musical jibe, but I've learnt in recent years that they can produce some of the finest extreme metal around. So it is comforting to find a French band still peddling something horrifyingly cheesy. Pandemonium [2] from Operadyse is as bland a power metal album as you can get. "It all sounds the same" is a phrase that really winds me up, but in this case I fear it is true as most will be hard pushed to distinguish it from the vast majority of German power metal in the last three decades. At least Leaves' Eyes have Liv Kristine to add a dose of sparkle to their music. But on latest offering Symphonies Of The Night [6] they are inextricably sounding ever more like the original incarnation of Nightwish. Having always been leaders in the world of female-fronted gothic metal, it seems they are now imitating the imitators. Still, Liv's voice is a delight to hear, and the songs strong enough to carry it along through magical adventures and fantastical tales.

Wolves In The Throne Room have established themselves as one of the most respected black metal bands to ever come out of America. This is born out in the fact even our beloved BBC invited them in to record a session, and now BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini [8] gets a lovely vinyl release. With two tracks from their latest full-length, this is incredibly dense, atmospheric and monumental music that invokes some kind of blissful dreamlike state, wrapped in deepest night. Augur Nox [4] from British black metallers Code drags on interminably, the grandiose and jittery songs washing into each other as minutes feel like hours. The band are at least trying to keep away from the genre's usual clichés, but the one-dimensional songwriting means that even half its disgorged length would be too long of what is unimaginative music. Heading further east (Where? Norwich? - Ed.) Satan's Wrath aren't that much more interesting as they tap into the spirit of the first generation of black metal bands. Aeons Of Satan's Reign [5] is accomplished enough, but lacks anything particularly new or invigorating to lift it above the countless voices of those peddling the same derivative wares.

There is a lot to appreciate about the new OvO album Abisso [5], but equal reasons to be frustrated. With just drums and a guitar they create dense, unsettling soundscapes full of menace and a putrid, writhing darkness. But the vocals are frankly irritating whilst the uneven flow of the whole record leaves me cold. Splitter takes a far more meditative approach towards constructing his bleak aural landscapes. On Thea [6] everything moves in slow motion, new vistas creeping out of the shadows as you slide round each corner. However it is often too soporific for its own good, slipping into the anonymous background with too much ease. A joint release between Brutal Truth and Bastard Noise is not the most obvious of combinations. Axiom Of Post Humanity [3] is one of the most testing offerings this year, and one of the dullest. Both bands offer up just wave after wave of distorted noise that is as clinical and soulless as it is unimaginative. Many would argue that this isn't even music, and although I wholeheartedly disagree, there are plenty of far better examples of this niche genre.

Ever since discovering Elsie Martins', aka Atom Eye, work I have been enthralled. Her debut under this moniker, The Otolith Sessions [8] is a collection of breath-taking experiments in tape manipulation. Beautifully haunting melodies are used and abused to create a lush yet darkly malevolent 45 minutes of experimental ambience. It is the ghosts of these sweet tunes that keeps the listener gripped, the promise and tension leading you ever onwards like an elfin fairy through the dark woods. The "audio cookbook" that accompanies the record is equally fascinating, going into some detail about some of the processes and tricks behind these sounds and will surely be an inspiration to anyone with the slightest interest in making unusual music.

Paul Ferris – Witchfinder General (18th, De Wolfe Music Library)
Apocalyptica – Wagner Reloaded – Live In Leipzig (18th, BMG Rights)
Motörhead – Aftershock (25th, UDR)
Melvins – Tres Cabrones (4th, Ipecac Recordings)
Deicide – In The Minds Of Evil (25th, Century Media Records)
Pestilence – Obsidio (11th, Candlelight Records)
Circle – Incarnation (25th, Ektro Records)
Operadyse – Pandemonium (25th, Sonic Attack)
Leaves' Eyes – Symphonies Of The Night (18th, Napalm Records)
OvO – Abisso (4th, Supernatural Cat)
Splitter – Thea (11th, Finaltune)
Brutal Truth / Bastard Noise – Axiom Of Post Inhumanity (11th, Relapse Records)
Wolves In The Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini (11th, Southern Lord)
Code – Augur Nox (18th, Agonia Records)
Satan's Wrath – Aeons Of Satan's Reign (11th, Metal Blade Records)
Atom Eye – The Otolith Sessions (18th, Forwind)

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