Dark Hemyspheres: Summer 2015

As has become the norm, the brighter months have the labels scurrying for their dark hideaways (or possibly the beach...) leaving the release schedule a little sparse. But one of the early sounds of the summer was a return to form for the Suffolk devils Cradle Of Filth in the tormented shape of Hammer Of The Witches [7]. Rejigged and rejuvenated, the songs are menacing and powerful whilst striking a delicate balance between the theatrical and the heavy. Only the beguiling voice of keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft feels under-used in what is arguably their best album this millennium. Emerging out of New Zealand, by way of Scotland, are Barshasketh with a slab of black metal that manages to tread that fine line between old-school coldness and modern-day technicality. Ophidian Henosis [6] sounds big and dynamic, yet retains a raw, harsh power without resorting to tacky lo-fi production, and consequentially wraps the listener up in its frosty arms with ease.

After the spellbinding and frankly disturbing revelation of their last album, Locrian are comparatively disappointing this time around. Infinite Dissolution [5] feels more like treading water, revisiting the same territory but minus the wide-eyed excitement of exploring somewhere unknown - and the subsequent emotional highs and lows that makes their music so draining yet rewarding. Many bands would still kill to make music this eviscerating; alas we know these guys can do much better. On the subject of frightening and scarred music, Chelsea Wolfe has never been an easy listen and Abyss [6] is certainly no different. Wrought with paranoia and distress, this is a visceral interpretation of her sleep paralysis. Doom-laden beats and beastly droning guitars battle with dreamy passages and ethereal vocals on what is under all the anguish a collection of (admittedly twisted) pop songs.

It will come as no surprise that The Anthropocene Extinction [5], the new record from Cattle Decapitation, is a bit fierce. An unrelenting blast of very modern death metal, it leaves little time to ever catch a breath. Yet for all its battering brutality, there is little deviation from the formula of not only this album but ones before too. The debut full-length from Immortal Bird, Empress/Abscess [7], is a much more interesting listen, particularly upon reaching the final epic 'And Send Fire'. Packing just as much of a punch, there is also a vibrancy present; the sound of a young band doing something new and exciting. This isn't just heavy, it rages with a burning hatred fuelled by claustrophobia, beating against the walls of their invisible prison.

It is easy to draw comparisons between Agent Fresco and the likes of their fellow countrymen Sigur Ros et al (and with good reason). Sophomore record Destrier [5] has a dream-like quality to it, aided most notably by the soaring vocals courtesy of Arnór Dan; but it still has one foot very much in the waking world exhibited by a heavier, almost djent-like, bustle surrounding the more introverted moments. Alas the post/prog trick of light and shade wears a little thin the further in you venture, settling into a rather monotonous pattern. On the other hand, Spock's Beard have discovered a new lease of life in recent times, and The Oblivion Particle [6] keeps the momentum going. Still unmistakably themselves, this is a bright and breezy affair, filled with good vibes and plenty of highly impressive - but rarely overtly showy - musicianship. Of course there is a whiff of proggy cheesiness surrounding the show, but then that shouldn't come as a surprise (nor disappointment) to most.

I am so immensely happy to see Steven Wilson return to his ambient Bass Communion moniker, teaming up again with Freiband for a short live composition. Bass Communion & Freiband [8], split over two sides of vinyl, builds from subtle dark drones in the first half to a throbbing, pulsating wall of noise on side two that ultimately collapses in on itself in a final moment of release. Enthralling and engulfing, it is a delight to hear one of the genre's masters return at last. Continuing his return to the gentle flowing soundscapes of his formative years, Disorientation Flow [7] is another fine example of the wonder Dirk Serries can conjure. An easy, relaxing drift to the five pieces surround and embrace the listener, a shade of sadness heightening the warmth of the aural hug. Deliberately eschewing volatility, this is for the darkest moments of the night, an escape from reality.

My favourite record of the summer was an easy choice in the end, and not for the lack of competition. Kudos must go to Century Media for picking up one of the best hardcore bands forming the vanguard of the current wave over the pond; heavier, faster and angrier, the current crop are a vicious bunch and Enabler epitomise all this with consummate ease. Third album Fail To Feel Safe [9] is a constant assault upon the hearing, blistering riffs and jackhammer drums filled with incandescent vitriol that is both devastating and awe-inspiring. But what makes it all the more captivating is the ear for a catchy melody hidden within the fire; Fail To Feel Safe isn't all tuneless guitars and atonal growling, the songs are bloody catchy too. The likes of 'Demolition Praise' and 'Sail The Sea Of Fire' in particular demonstrate extreme music can stick in the brain whilst simultaneously melting it.

Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches (10th July, Nuclear Blast Records)
Barshasketh – Ophidian Henosis (31st July, Blut & Eisen Productions)
Locrian – Infinite Dissolution (24th July, Relapse Records)
Chelsea Wolfe – Abyss (7th August, Sargent House)
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction (7th August, Metal Blade Records)
Immortal Bird – Empress/Abscess (17th July, Manatee Rampage Records)
Agent Fresco – Destrier (7th August, Long Branch Records)
Spock's Beard – The Oblivion Particle (21st August, InsideOut Music)
Bass Communion & Freiband – Bass Communion & Freiband (28th August, Important Records)
Dirk Serries – Disorientation Flow (3rd July, Projekt Records)
Enabler – Fail To Feel Safe (7th August, Century Media Records)

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