Dark Hemyspheres: September 2016

We'll jump right in at the deep end this month with the new Insomnium album. Winter's Gate [5] is a single track, forty minute tale based on the accompanying short story; ambitious to say the least, and nice to hear a band stretch themselves outside of any comfort zone. Whilst the piece never feels dragged out or overlong, neither does it really sound like them. Gone is the hypnotic, almost droney magic enlivened by that keen sense of gloomy melody, leaving behind a rather morose heavy folk band more intent on telling tales. A mere seventeen years after the last, Pure [6] heralds the return of In The Woods… and their particularly melancholic proginess. Although still very much anchored in that Nineties doom sound, they aren't weighed down by being completely retro; indeed this is fresh and energetic despite being utterly depressing. There's room for more than the odd catchy hook and memorable tune amongst the gritty riffs, as the likes of the title track and 'The Cave Of Dreams' aptly demonstrate.

Post-rock has remained rather stale since most of the much-loved innovators passed out of existence, with too many bands simply re-treading old ground in soppy hero-worshipping. Memoirs Of A Secret Empire are hardly rewriting the book, but with Vertigo [6] they have produced something that really made me sit up and take note. Soaring instrumentals playing light against dark is of course the staple, but when they get heavy, they really go for it and produce some rollicking headbanging material; hugely accomplished for their first full-length, here are ones to keep an eye on. By contrast, Lost In Kiev appear rather uninspired on Nuit Noire [4]. Highlights such as 'Mirrors' stand out all the more as the rest of the record blends into fairly monotonous and unoriginal background fair. There is also an over-reliance on spoken word samples, all used in a similar manner which only serves to increase the homogeny of the entire work.

Phantom Winter have pulled together a rather horrible record, in all the right ways. Sundown Pleasures [7] is a nasty, noisy assault upon the hearing, beginning with a post-industrial black metal howl before tearing that away to charge down equally nightmarish paths. Pilfering from hardcore, thrash, doom and even drone to forge this scathing fire, this is as uneasy as listening gets. Taking a much more direct approach to devastation are Halshug with their new one Sort Sind [5]. Twenty odd minutes of furiously heavy, punky hardcore comes screaming out of the speakers, but the effects are a little lacklustre. Especially in comparison to some of the blistering salvos Southern Lord have unleashed in the past, this falls flat as it lacks either ridiculous pace or supermassive weight to live with the best that have emerged from that stable.

War has long been a theme running strong through the black metal community; what makes Ich Hatt Einen Kameraden [6] more interesting is having bands who ancestors (supposedly) fought on opposite sides of The Great War unite for a split release influenced by its conflicts along the Eastern Front. Minenwerfer and 1914 are musically perfect sparring partners too as they deliver powerful, battering doses of black metal, fast and biting with a deathly chill at the core. But whereas the former lean more towards the thrashier end of the genre, the latter take a doomier route, showing off the diversity where many presume there is none. Different once again is the solo project Mare Cognitum, an entity who has long impressed me with an expansive, celestial take. Luminiferous Aether [6] continues this extra-terrestrial exploration, drifting amongst the stars in a strangely meditative and relaxing way despite the harsh, freezing tone of the music. This shows a greater level of maturity and conciseness, with even the longer passages showing less signs of meandering than previously.

If the name S U R V I V E suddenly seems familiar, it is because half the band is responsible for the Stranger Things soundtrack. The full line-up’s second outing RR7349 [7] is very much in the same vein, kosmische 80s synths piling up to create moody, menacing atmospheres that so enhanced the series and got everyone excited. Without the visuals to control the pace, they show a little more drive here to allow the record to stand by itself, which it does admirably. Swedes Katla have a much more modern take on krautrock, immediately hitting their groove with big meaty guitars and judicious amounts of Theremin getting Embryo [6] off to a grand start. Far from being a one trick pony though, folk and prog pierce the cosmic haze as we sink deeper in. But these guys and girls are definitely at their best when going for a full crazy freak-out, and none more so than on the ridiculously titled closer 'A Black Slimy Smooth Tongueshaped Form' – prepare for lift-off!

Enigmatic duo Lotus Thief emerged a couple of years ago with a frankly brilliant debut offering, and on this month's Dark Star Gramarye [8] they have managed to follow it up with something even better. Audacious in its lyrical inspirations, drawing primarily from ancient and mysterious texts, the music is similarly expansive and grandiose. Dense, psychedelic layers of synths and guitars provide the backdrop for the beautiful and ethereal female vocals; puncturing the dreamlike state, passages of black riffs and ambient minimalism draws the listener down different alleys, promising to unlock secrets from the aged texts. Gramarye is a joyous listen; uplifting yet heavy, dark yet full of light, varied yet flows as a single piece, understated yet overpowering. Here Lotus Thief have crafted a record that spreads its wings across the spectrum (black metal? Yes, but in no way "trve"; psychedelic? It certainly gets out there; prog? The echoes of the 70s ring clear), and the view is spectacular.

Insomnium – Winter's Gate (23rd, Century Media Records)
In The Woods… – Pure (16th, Debemur Morti Productions)
Memoirs Of A Secret Empire – Vertigo (30th, Signal Rex)
Lost In Kiev – Nuit Noire (2nd, dunk!records)
Phantom Winter – Sundown Pleasures (16th, Golden Antenna Records)
Halshug – Sort Sind (30th, Southern Lord)
Minenwerfer / 1914 – Ich Hatt Einen Kameraden (16th, Archaic Sound)
Mare Cognitum – Luminiferous Aether (16th, I, Voidhanger Records)
S U R V I V E – RR7349 (30th, Relapse Records)
Katla – Embryo (30th, Svart Records)
Lotus Thief – Gramarye (16th, Prophecy Productions)

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