Dark Hemyspheres: November 2014

Ah, November... A pyromaniac's favourite time of the year! Smoky fires and even smokier beers require a suitable backdrop - something bleak, dark and with just a whiff of hell's roasting pots. Just don’t mention the C-word...

The demise of Cathedral was a sad moment for all doom fans, but Gaz Jennings is back with his new project Death Penalty. The debut, the imaginatively titled Death Penalty [7], is very much in the same vein: huge, funereal dirges and psychedelic undertones, only this time with the sultry tones of Michelle Nocon adding a dark beauty to the affair. Hints of NWOBHM to a few numbers also add a little extra energy to proceedings and ensure the album never drags.

Everyone remembers Monster Magnet forthat song. But in recent years they have become so much more than that, as aptly demonstrated on the recent Last Patrol. Now on Milking The Stars [6], a re-imagining of said record, the music goes ever deeper into spacey psychedelic madness. A mixture of new tracks and different takes on recent songs, the mood is much more relaxed, a post-midnight groove synonymous with the late 60s as opposed to the ballsy riff-led stoner rock they are more associated with.

Stealing Fire From Heaven [5] is the first full-length from 11 Paranoias, and comes as something of a disappointment after the preview EPs. It still has the monolithic riffs and wah-ridden guitars, but for some reason lacks the massive power that the debut release in particular had, ultimately leaving this feeling a little flat. Having originally been born out of exploratory jamming, the extra thought gone into pulling together a complete album has maybe killed the magic. Mike Vest is on better form with Blown Out, whose Drifting Way Out Between Suns [6] does exactly that. A trio of stalwarts from the space age game, the two twenty minute jams here are enjoyable, if slightly derivative, blasts through futuristic psychedelia. This is the alternative soundtrack to the ending of 2001, one even more mind-bending than the original that most certainly leaves you dazed and confused.

Despite my seemingly perpetual cynicism and disdain towards black metal, there are a few albums from this scene that can still genuinely surprise. And few have delighted me more this year than Phobos Monolith [7] from Mare Cognitum. Despite the dreadful title, this is as fine an example this year of the progressive and devastating avenues the genre could explore if more bands were as open-minded as these Californians. Melding a high-quality production – that uses the entire audible spectrum – with blooding-chilling atmospherics so vital to this style, they have brought forth a record that is rather terrifying. And continuing last month's extolling of the British scene, Fen return with Carrion Skies [7]. Epic and vast, it captures the beauty and the bleakness of their Norfolk home in a frightening display of murky menace. Edging ever further away from the traditional clichés of the genre, the band are not only becoming more prog, but actually being progressive too with shades of folk gaining an ever-stronger presence throughout.

It is amazing to hear Faust still confusing the hell out of everyone after more than forty years at the outer edges of krautrock. j US t [6] is another trippy voyage through motorik beats and twisted noises, stitched together in a way only this unhinged pair can. From throbbing heavy drones to free-jazz piano pieces, there isn't much that is missing here, and yet somehow it feels vaguely coherent – an impressive trick. The anonymous S's tries to get rather noisy on Exploded View Of Love [4]. Largely tame and unimaginative, the shorter tracks feel like a rough assortment of half-baked variations on throbbing singular electronic beats. However, buried in the middle of it all is 'Love Life', a piece which eventually expands into a more complete drone that is a much tougher and more satisfying experience. The title track too does at least show some variation, but ultimately fails to evolve enough as a drone to maintain any interest. Finns K-X-P are more astute on their new EP History Of Techno [6] as they mould the noise and beats into something more trance-inducing. The undercurrents of 70s kosmische synths also add a playful air to the scene, conjuring images of early special effects sequences of diving through wormholes.

So the death metal supergroup Bloodbath are back with a new vocalist, and Nick Holmes does an excellent job in a style we haven't heard out of him for over two decades. Once again, Grand Morbid Funeral [7] is a love letter to the scene of the late 80s, a dirty, destructive and blood-soaked ode. But this is not a bunch of teenagers trying to be more disgusting than those next door, this is effortlessly extreme as the professionalism and experience shines through to deliver that final killing blow. Briefly popping their head above the parapet again are Carcass with their Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel [6] EP. Collecting the leftover and bonus tracks from last year's return Surgical Steel, they do feel exactly that. It is an enjoyable twenty minute blast of gory death metal, and is a fine little companion piece for those that are keen on the parent record, but it is little more than a coda.

As the years have passed, Blueneck are certainly showing a lot more confidence in both their music and Duncan Attwood's vocals. Album number five King Nine [6] shows yet another great leap forward in this department as the band produce a really well pieced together collection of emotive, fragile post-rock atmospherics. The problem that they, like so many in the genre, are running into is that in essence this is little more than a rehash of what has gone before; no matter how beautiful it is, most will still go back to the earlier albums. Going down the left hand path are Broughton's Rules, an instrumental quartet out of Pittsburgh. Second album Anechoic Horizon [7] is a dense, dissonant, heavy exploration of dark musical alleyways, a fascinating exploration of build-and-raze song structures that remains interesting throughout. Pounding, rhythmical guitars collide with harsh, squealing feedback before it all collapses in on itself, repeating the process in thrilling but exhausting fashion.

Confusion reigns over the new Old Man Gloom record. How many versions of The Ape Of God [1] are there? Are the two they are selling identical after all? Does the one I'm currently listening to actually bear any resemblance to the real thing? According to one message from the band I've been given a fake record to review because I will leak it online. Thanks! Of course, this is not my only review of what I have been handed, but I'm not sure I want to reveal if this really is the "true" one... When Old Man Gloom unexpectedly returned a couple of years ago after an extended hiatus, there was much rejoicing. Thankfully it was not just a one-off as The Ape Of God [8] is yet another fine example of the punishing sludgy hardcore this collection of underground superstars have made their own. Furious blasts of violent anger jar against monolithic dirges, all tied together by waves of maddening noise. There is a school of thought that the Old Man Gloom legacy, when resurrected in 2012, was probably best left untouched. The Ape Of God [3] will only add weight to that particular argument as the band muddle through forty five minutes of disjointed, uninspired nonsense. Moments of ferocious hardcore are snuffed out too quickly, whilst funereal passages stretch out for too long as the whole thing descends into messy incoherence.

This month's dark star was an easy choice as the masters of folk metal, Primordial, never fail to astound. In Where Greater Men Have Fallen [8] they have once again delivered a record so expertly crafted, an astonishing balance of doom-laden black metal married to their Irish heritage with a flair for telling the bleakest of stories. Recent releases have had a stirring effect akin to listening to an inspiring speech before heading into battle, and once again I find myself following wherever they will lead. The blistering riffs get the blood pumping whilst the pounding drums quicken the step, the little Irish nuances that litter both now the signature Primordial twist hooking you right back in to their dark and cold world. Although Where Greater Men Have Fallen might not quite reach the incredible heights of the previous few records, it is still nonetheless a remarkable listen and yet another lesson to the myriad of bands who have followed in their wake.

Death Penalty – Death Penalty (10th, Rise Above / Soulfood)
Monster Magnet – Milking The Stars: A Re-imagining Of Last Patrol (10th, Napalm Records)
11 Paranoias – Stealing Fire From Heaven (10th, Ritual Productions)
Blown Out – Drifting Way Out Between Suns (10th, Riot Season)
Mare Cognitum – Phobos Monolith (3rd, I, Voidhanger Records)
Fen – Carrion Skies (24th, code666)
Faust – j US t (17th, Bureau B)
S's – Exploded View Of Love (3rd, G@#9)
K-X-P – History Of Techno (17th, Svart Records)
Bloodbath – Grand Morbid Funeral (17th, Peaceville Records)
Carcass – Surgical Remission / Surplus Steel (17th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Blueneck – King Nine (10th, Denovali Records)
Broughton's Rules – Anechoic Horizon (10th, Relapse Records)
Old Man Gloom – The Ape Of God (17th, Profound Lore Records)
Primordial – Where Greater Men Have Fallen (24th, Metal Blade Records)

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