Dark Hemyspheres: October 2014

October, the month of Halloween, the one day of the year people actually want to plunder my wardrobe. And, seemingly in preparation for this ghoulish holiday, there are a remarkable number of frighteningly good albums emerging like zombies from the grave, here to munch through a few brains.

It is astonishing how many bands have attempted to imitate At The Gates over the years, and in one fell swoop they have shown everyone (again) just how to do Swedish death metal. At War With Reality [8] bridges that chasm between the classic Gothenburg sound whilst still sounding fresh, their devastating combination of bloodied riffs punctuated by wicked melodic lines dancing in the gaps is a trick very few have mastered. The main difference here is this is a band full of energy playing what they want, how they want - rather than trying too hard to get everything just right.

Originally one of the leading lights of the next generation of Swedish death metal, it has gone (as with a few of their peers this year) a bit awry for Scar Symmetry with The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity) [2]. Sounding more and more like a German power metal band with only occasional nods to their roots, the cheesiness of the music is beaten only by the pulp sci-fi story that drives the record. A more modern demonstration of the genre comes from Rings Of Saturn. Lugal Ki En [4] is a concept album about a war between aliens and angels set on a future Earth... It is all a bit bonkers, with the music being as impenetrable as the story; the musicianship is out of this world but this is an utterly lifeless record.

It may feel at times that the rest of the world is laughing at us, but there really is some British black metal to be proud of. Brummies Anaal Nathrakh are one of the first names on that list, and Desideratum [7] is yet another reminder as to why. Relentless and punishing almost to the point of being unlistenable, this is sickeningly heavy music. The only issue that begins to rear its ugly head is a degree of homogeny starting to creep in over the entire album. This perhaps reinforces the aural hammering, but some listeners may feel a sense of stagnation. Winterfylleth have also built up a reputation with their historically-infused and far-reaching hymns. The Divination Of Antiquity [6] remains on a similar path to previous efforts as they lean heavily on a more prog-like approach. But once again the lack of true progression is starting to feel a little one-dimensional. On the other side of the Channel there has been a similar rise, led by Blut Aus Nord. The latest in yet another trilogy, Memoria Vetusta III - Saturnian Poetry [6] is a return to the more traditional aspects of the band's sound. Nothing like as interesting as their dissonant industrial-tinged works, this is still a ferocious attack that continues to put many of the "purists" to shame.

Witch Mountain take a very traditional approach to doom on fourth album Mobile Of Angels [5] with the elephantine guitars slowly sucking the hope out of the room. The one beam of light, as has become the fad of late, are the soaring vocals of Uta Plotkin, the beauty of which merely makes the music that more morose. The Cavern [5] from Inter Arma is far more ambitious, a forty five minute, one song EP pieced together on the road. This is indeed epic in scale, drawing vivid images of vast, desolate landscapes as the composition slowly unfolds and evolves. Repetition plays a large part here, and alas the band are guilty of its overuse as too often the music drifts aimlessly for too long before the next movement comes shuffling into view.

In what seems a very unlikely but highly exciting meeting of minds, Scott Walker + Sunn O))) have conjured up Soused [8]. This is the latter's second collaboration this year, and once again shows that with the addition of a fresh perspective they can still create wildly original and uncomfortable music. Walker's distinctive croon and unusual songwriting work wonderfully with the immense drones and walls of noise Sunn O))) build, resulting in a brooding, sinisterly dark record that is as enjoyable as it is unsettling. Harking back to his earliest ambient experiments on The Origin Reversal [7], Dirk Serries continues to produce lush and hypnotic drones with nothing more than a guitar and his trusty effects pedals. Drawn out from a series of improvised sessions, this is album filled with a delicate warmth, a comforting blanket of massive soundscapes that is the aural equivalent of soaking in a blissfully hot bath.

After years of speculation and anticipation, Z2 [6] is upon us. Released under his current Devin Townsend Project moniker, we are first treated to Epicloud's successor. The Sky Blue side does indeed follow on directly, with its mixture of metal riffing and poppy sensibilities that is rather fun, although does not quite reach the heights of its predecessor. But most people are hankering after Ziltoid The Omniscient's latest adventure in search of a good coffee. Heavier and more boisterous, this keeps just the right side of slapstick cringing right up until the final chapter, where it crashes through enough horrible plot twists to last Eastenders for a year before remembering right at the last it is all about the music. Largely the better disc of the two, the unfortunate pandering to the story is a not entirely unsurprising disappointment.

It is no secret that I am somewhat a fan of psychedelic proggers Purson, so even a little tease in the form of the four track EP In The Meantime [8] has me all shades of excited. Sliding even further back in time, there is a stronger late 60s hippy vibe permeating the ethereal doom, albeit in a twisted form as the dark folky tones very much come to the fore here. The razor-sharp guitars dance frenetically and Rosalie Cunningham's voice is truly beguiling once again whilst Sam Shove's synths paint sweeping aural landscapes. This is a very precarious balance between drawing upon many retro influences, (including British folk horror flicks) and creating music that is original and exciting; Purson achieve both with ease.

It has been a while since ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Off Dead have had this much vim and vigour. The imaginatively titled IX [7] rattles along in some proggy/indie dream machine that is simply a joy. The pacing is superb as the band show expert control over the highs and lows, building to huge crescendos releasing all the tension in huge musical explosions – thrilling and exhausting. We Were Promised Jetpacks are very adept at doing the same live, but unfortunately Unravelling [5] does not quite perform the same tricks. Most of the record falls into the category of standard Mogwai-worshipping indie post-rock, but there are moments of elevated brilliance such as 'Peace Of Mind' that demonstrate the band as well on record as they are on stage.

Japan's Mono release not one, but two new albums this month. Both have that distinctive, relaxing post-rock tilt to them that does not stretch far beyond territory they have already covered. But these two do have different moods as The Last Dawn [5] feels light and airy, whilst Rays Of Darkness [6] is altogether darker and more frenetic, culminating in the brilliantly unsettling static drones of 'The Last Rays'. In a much happier place are Valerian Swing on sophomore offering A U R O R A [5]. Upbeat and bouncy, this Italian trio are clearly having fun; but whilst the technical ability on show is first rate, there is little emotion invested in the music to grab on to, leaving the album to feel like an exercise in showing off.

We all have our little guilty musical pleasures, those bands or albums we may not immediately own up to enjoying. One of mine is Liv Kristine, and her new solo outing Vervain [6] is another gentle reminder as to why I do keep returning. Obviously focused on her wondrous vocals, dreamlike and angelic with a stunningly high range yet still delivered with power, the music underneath is not so bland as to be dull, but the gothic power metal never threatens to distract from the star of the show.

It can certainly be argued that Godflesh are the true decedents of proto heavy metal, taking the grim industrial landscapes of the Midlands and forging them into this almighty beast. Picking up after thirteen years, A World Lit Only By Fire [8] continues right from where the legacy was so abruptly left: pounding mechanical beats driving on with titanic guitars. The methodical violence that these riffs dish out is astounding, a constant hammering that is almost unparalleled. A World Lit Only By Fire doesn't quite have the feel of being a Godflesh classic, but is more a summation of what went before as the duo launch into a new era that is a world apart from the one they soundtracked first time around.

At The Gates – At War With Reality (27th, Century Media Records)
Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity) (6th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Rings Of Saturn – Lugal Ki En (13th, Unique Leader Records)
Anaal Nathrakh – Desideratum (27th, Metal Blade Records)
Winterfylleth – The Divination Of Antiquity (6th, Candlelight Records)
Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta III - Saturnian Poetry (13th, Debemur Morti Productions)
Witch Mountain – Mobile Of Angels (6th, Svart Records)
Inter Arma – The Cavern (13th, Relapse Records)
Scott Walker + Sunn O))) – Soused (20th, 4AD)
Dirk Serries – The Origin Reversal (6th, Projekt Records)
Devin Townsend Project – Z2 (27th, InsideOut Music)
Purson – In The Meantime (13th, Machine Elf Records)
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead – IX (20th, Superball Music)
We Were Promised Jetpacks – Unravelling (6th, Fat Cat Records)
Mono – The Last Dawn / Rays Of Darkness (27th, Pelagic Records)
Valerian Swing – A U R O R A (27th, Small Pond)
Liv Kristine – Vervain (27th, Napalm Records)
Godflesh – A World Lit Only By Fire (6th, Avalanche Recordings)

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