Dark Hemyspheres: Summer 2014

Much like the schools, the music industry takes something approaching a holiday over the summer months (fill in your own jokes about journalists being like children). The result is a slew of reissues and sparse new pickings, hence this instalment of Dark Hemyspheres covering both July and August. That said, there are still a few diamonds in the dust if you hunt around.

Easily the standout from the back catalogue pile comes from France's Monolithe. Specialising in single track behemoths, these crushing slabs of mesmerising doom stretch out to breaking point. Getting a polish and a fresh look is second album II [5], which at over 50 minutes long begins to push the limits of patience as it cycles round a few times and crosses the line from hypnotic to boring – something just a smidgen of editing could have avoided. Tying in with this is Zero [7], a collection of their two Interlude EPs plus a couple of covers, including a fine rendition of Strauss' 'Also Sprach Zarathustra'. To illustrate the previous point, final track 'Harmony Of Null Matter' clocks in at 36 minutes, yet never slips into over-extended mindlessness as the piece slowly evolves and morphs, leaving the listener shattered and reeling as it comes to its punishing conclusion.

The most surprising was the collection of Entrails demos, Resurrected From The Grave [6]. These were based on decades-old material that had been locked away for two decades, and given how appalling their most recent effort was, hopes were not high. So it was with some bewilderment to find that we have the equivalent of a full album plus an EPs worth of dirty, gory death metal well deserving of the tag. This is fast, lively and a little bit sickening, with a fairly typical 90s production that serves the music well. The return of the legendary Entombed A.D. should be a cause for celebration; unfortunately, Back To The Front [3] is a woeful attempt at some old school death metal. Insipid and uninspired, there is no menace to be found here, only the most ordinary and lacklustre of offerings. India might not be the first place to search for an alternative, but Demonic Resurrection do indeed deliver some much-needed blood and thunder with The Demon King [6]. This is not a constant pedal-to-the-metal blast, interspersing more (comparatively) melodic and progressive passages into a few of the songs. The result is a much more interesting album that still delivers a sledgehammer blow.

The World We Left Behind [5] is to be Nachtmystium's final album, and as such shows that the end of the line has indeed been reached. A slick and well-executed slab of black metal, complete with blood-chilling riffs and banshee wails, it is still a slightly laboured affair. Lacking any real spark, the band's music has become formulaic; the emotion from mainman Blake Judd is raw but is unfocused, messy and repetitive. By contrast, Chaos Moon have managed to produce a record in Resurrection Extract [7] that feels classically black metal, yet sounds rich, ferocious and maintains the interest throughout its 70 minutes. Passages of dark ambience help control the mood and flow, whilst blistering waves of maniacal riffing don't entirely forsake the lower end of the aural spectrum. The end result is a challenging but breathless dive into utter bleakness. Belphegor have been around for a long while, and tenth album Conjuring The Dead [5] springs little in the way of surprises. Bringing in elements from many other extreme genres, there is still a certain uniformity to this furious blast as one song crashes into the next. The production is great and the musicianship faultless, but there is precious little character or diversity to make it stand out, leading ultimately to a rather forgettable experience.

Daniel O'Sullivan and Alexander Tucker have always been good at shifting boundaries and defying expectations, and any new Grumbling Fur record is going to be met with much excitement. But inevitably there are disappointments along the way, and Preternaturals [5] is one such. One part pop and another psychedelic, what starts off as fun messing around with the music becomes an alienating and finally dull "look how clever we are" boast. The songs themselves lack much spark, and it isn't long before the album drifts off into exacerbated weariness. Adding jazz and prog to a similar mix are Knifeworld, who do a better job on their sophomore The Unravelling [6]. Quite clearly taking their lead from Gabriel-era Genesis, this is a roller-coaster in every sense. When the band hit the spot, such as with 'I Can Teach You How To Lose A Fight' and 'Destroy The World We Love', the music is a joy to drink in with the glorious melodies, soaring harmonies and rich arrangements; but the stretches in between slip by barely noticed, unable to maintain the energy and intensity.

They apparently create music to escape the dreariness of their hometown Fleetwood, and Earthling Society do a pretty good job of dragging their audience along for the ride. England Have My Bones [7] is a wonderfully relaxing hike down krautrock back roads as the driving rhythms are slowed down to an amble, albeit a purposeful one, to create a backbone for the spacey guitars to squeal and drone their way to a higher state of mind. Black metal duo Wolves In The Throne Room have ditched the guitars in favour of a plethora of vintage synths. As a result Celestite [6] is a full on kosmische blow-out that could so easily have come from the mid-70s. The music has that same lush depth that their usual approach does, only this time it feels warmer, less terrifying and more awe-inspiring. The problem is, whereas in their heavier guise they are bold, unique and innovative, this is far more derivative and lacks that distinctive aural stamp.

Stoner trio Karma To Burn have become one of those dependable constants that you can rely on to deliver a solid record. Arch Stanton [6] is exactly that, the sound of band knowing what they do best, and doing it well. Their imaginative efforts have instead gone into conjuring up a new set of the grooviest riffs around, and succeed in keeping their brand of instrumental rock interesting for the entire length of the album – one to keep the fans happy. Again. Achieving a similar effect but with very different pieces are Leicester four piece Maybeshewill. Fair Youth [6] is very much more from the post-rock school, the hypnotic riffs swirl amongst soaring electronics in a heady mix of uplifting and weighty music. Once again though the problem is a lack of anything new; the band are unwaveringly true to their sound, which in turn has failed to stray far from the stereotypical clichés.

Despite rolling two months into one, the plan was still to have a single dark star. However two records, both eagerly anticipated, have been on constant rotation ever since they landed (on the same day, as it so happened), and both more than deserve the accolade.

It is such a rare treat when you stumble across a band that create something so completely different, and I have been raving about The Wytches ever since I caught them supporting Purson. At long last we have their debut Annabel Dream Reader [8], a psychedelic tumble through what they call surf doom – that'll be just plain crazy to the rest of us. Without fail, every track on here is catchy thanks to the surf-pop heart beating underneath; but it is the warped, doom-laden manner in which they are dressed up that makes it all so memorable. The album is heavy and deranged, a mixture of some sublime riffs (none better than 'Crying Clown'), howling feedback ('Digsaw' sets up the whole shebang perfectly) and majestic individuality (not many would be brave, or clever enough to conjure 'Wire Frame Mattress'). Remarkably for such a messed up concoction, I really believe The Wytches have a lot of cross-appeal, and Annabel Dream Reader deserves to be heard by them all.

A lot of these points can also be made about Alestorm, who are now on their fourth record of pirate-themed power metal. The last half of that phrase normally has me running a mile, but ever since I first saw them live (again in a support slot) I rather enjoy indulging in the silliness of their nautical escapades. For Sunset On A Golden Age [8] they have added a more conventional full-time keyboardist, the upshot of which is that the music has been given a grander tone. There is also a degree of respectability to be found too – go beyond the jaunty riffs and madcap lyrics and you find a deliciously heavy record; the epic title track for instance will put many a band purporting to be "the heaviest since x" to shame. But it is the storytelling that continues to take centre stage, eliciting delight, amazement and cringing horror in short order as they flip from the sublime to the ridiculous; from the thoughtful "The snow fell hard on a frozen sea / As the night swarmed all around / With no moon to guide our passage north / This corpse of mine may never be found" to a gem of a chorus in "Wooden leg! Wooden leg! Wooden leg! I've got a wooden leg! Wooden leg!" Sod it - just revel in the fantastical ventures upon distant seas, there's treasure to be had!

Monolithe – Zero / II (July 21st, Debemur Morti Productions)
Entrails – Resurrected From The Grave (July 21st, Metal Blade Records)
Entombed A.D. – Back To The Front (August 4th, Century Media Records)
Demonic Resurrection – The Demon King (July 14th, Candlelight Records)
Nachtmystium – The World We Left Behind (August 4th, Century Media Records)
Chaos Moon – Resurrection Extract (August 4th, I Voidhanger Recordings)
Belphegor – Conjuring The Dead (August 11th, Nuclear Blast Records)
Grumbling Fur – Preternaturals (August 11th, The Quietus Phonographic Corporation)
Knifeworld – The Unravelling (July 21st, InsideOut Music)
Earthling Society – England Have My Bones (August 18th, Riot Season)
Wolves In The Throne Room – Celestite (July 7th, Artemisia Records)
Karma To Burn – Arch Stanton (August 18th, Faba/Deepdive Records)
Maybeshewill – Fair Youth (August 25th, Superball Music)
The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader (August 25th, Heavenly Recordings)
Alestorm – Sunset On The Golden Age (August 4th, Napalm Records)

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