Steel Druhm is the undisputed Site Overseer and Lead Contributor at AMG. A teen during the 80s, he’s the oldest, and therefore wisest metal historian on staff and takes pride in the fact he was a fan back when the only genre of metal, was metal. Angry Metal Guy is angry, metal and opinionated.
Wisdom is a recluse, shunning most who seek it and often ignored when it crawls from out from its shade. Few of us possess it and those that claim so are the least likely to present proof of its mantel. I’m neither a sage nor an oracle like the priestesses of Delphi: the words of the divine do not flow past my lips, at least as far as I’m aware. If I was the Pythia, however, and my wisdom was sought by a band then you can be sure that I would stress in no uncertain terms to never name yourself or your music in such a way to invite jibes and self-satisfied one-liners from critics looking for an easy zinger. If only that had happened here, as it’s bad enough for a metalcore band, already a genre saddled with misfortune, to settle on the name Disparager but to then settle on Existential Dread as the album title? That is either the mark of supreme confidence or blissful ignorance. Take a guess.
I don’t dip my toes into metalcore’s shallow waters much these days, left embittered due to the ferocity and angular blood-letting of acts such as Botch, Cave In, and Converge was picked up, stretched out and drained of power by newer bands seeking fame at the expense of dignity. Contemporary metalcore is synonymous with saccharine hooks, preening band members and a sound that’s a faint whisper of a once great roar. By that measure I, like many of my fellow writers, tend to give the genre a wide berth but that doesn’t mean I’m dismissive of metalcore as a whole, it’s just that I expect little from modern bands when their promos land in my lap. So yes, dread clutched at my guts as I prepared myself to endure whatever torment the latest album from the Brooklyn quartet lay in wait for me.
As it turned out the music on tap wasn’t the disaster I had feared. Disparager, to their credit are not lacking in talent and once it was established that my ears weren’t going to rip themselves free from my head in protest I allowed myself a sigh of relief. “Promise (I’ve Already Surrendered)” offers a balanced example of Disparager’s style, a layered song that shifts in mood, displaying both the fires of passion and the embers of introspection. Converge has its fingerprints over many aspects of the music, so too does Narcissus although due to that band’s total obscurity it’s likely more coincidence than anything else. Existential Dread is prone to asynchronous tempo shifts that gives the album a dose of personality but it can be jarring, jolting the listener from their reverie. It’s a stumble, and not the only one as the record is burdened with the unfortunate habit of undermining its own success.
There’s no better example of this trait than the vocals. Christopher AhKao employs both clean and harsh singing, and while the former is elegiac the latter lacks power, leaving a malnourished sound. At times the vocals strain near to the point of breaking, so much so that I can almost taste the blood in my mouth from AhKao’s frayed and battered throat. The exceptions are on “Fall” and “Fire,” however “Fire” despite being the best track on the album manages to almost undo the goodwill through poor decision making. For example, two-thirds of the way into the track we reach a point of quivering elation as the fibrous, heavy riffing syncs in harmony to Ahkao exhorting “with the fire in your eyes” in what can be described as a perfect moment of synchronism…only for the chord to fumble, down-shift and push the listener away, leaving only a feeling of unrequited dissatisfaction.
If one were to lay out the individual sprogs, springs and sprockets that Existential Dread is constructed from, you would step back pleased at the craftsmanship, at how each individual piece has been rendered with care. Assembled, the machine shudders and heaves, the gnashing of misaligned gear-teeth a distraction too onerous to ignore. I absorbed enough enjoyment from the record that I didn’t rue my fate for being exposed to another abominable metalcore release but neither do I feel compelled to ever return to Existential Dread. So no, I’m not going to “disparage” the band for causing “existential dread,” rather I will lament that the music delivered falls well short of the talent that birthed it and only hope that future releases will succeed so that the whole is greater than the parts.
Disparager - "Fall" - official music video - YouTube
Back in 2015, Ukranian act Mettadone emerged from wherever they’d been previously to unleash their debut, Invisible Disease, upon the world. The album was an intriguing offering of gothic-tinged doom/death and had good potential behind it. In 2017, while touring, the band’s singer apparently left the band right before a show. What’s a band to do? I should think that would be obvious: the drummer sang the show, discovered he enjoyed the role, and so the band subsequently went full death metal. Fast-forward a couple of years, and here they are, reformed and revitalized for their sophomore, Rotten Flattery.
It’s been a little while since I’ve been impressed with a death metal record. I think the last one that really grabbed me was Crescent’s The Order of Amenti, courtesy of some really great melodic leads and memorable songwriting. It certainly wasn’t melodeath, but was just melodic enough to stand out from the “bash in the skull of the listener and sort the mess out later” style so common in death metal today. Mettadone reminds me of Crescent in that way, with clear influence from Paradise Lost and Edge of Sanity. Mind you, the skull bashing is certainly here—songs like “Mind’s Prisoner” and “Untrue Entity” lunge for the jugular, parrying with loud drumming and riffs unending. Everyone performs admirably across Rotten Flattery, though the guitars, of course, are the primary focus with varied chugging, tremolo, and solo work standing out across the album.
The best songs on Rotten Flattery, however, are the ones that hearken back, just a little bit, to Invisible Disease in terms of their melodic side. “Obscurity of Hypocrisy” is a great example of this, with a subtle synth backdrop raising the song’s more traditional structure to memorable heights. “Pray for Help” is an awesome track, combining intense riffing, furious vocals, an awesome solo, and an unexpected clean choral section towards the back half of the track. “In a Funeral Home,” manages to stay interesting, despite its seven-minute run time, because of its tendency towards similar structures. Mettadone’s ability to merge melodic undertones with awesome riffing and blasting helps a lot of Rotten Flattery to stand out in a really good way.
The primary drawbacks to Rotten Flattery are simple: it is long, and it is loud. Fifty-two minutes1 is a long time to listen to frantic riffs and overloud snares, even if they are produced cleanly and clearly. This is part of why the slower, more melodic tracks on the album are as welcome as they are. “Act of Revenge” is definitely a strong pile of riffs, but I can’t actually recall any of it—it simply appears too late on the album, in the back half where ear fatigue starts to mesh all of the riffs together into an angry, if well-constructed, blob. It’s a testament to the master and production that it takes so long to reach that point, but it’s still an issue that does bring a very good album down a bit. I’m also not sure how I feel about the bass, which is loose, loud, and downright grimy. On “Untrue Entity,” it actually manages to distract from the riffing altogether, though it adds welcome dimensions when it is allowed to be subtle.2
This might have been an odd album for me to snatch up for review. Given the sound Mettadone employed on Invisible Disease, I wasn’t expecting the foray into death metal that I’ve been spinning for the past little while. I really don’t count death metal as a genre I keep a careful eye on, but something in Rotten Flattery just grabbed me. This album is a grower for sure, and it’s already shown me there’s plenty more to it than meets the eye. In a relative sea of stagnation, Rotten Flattery is a lot more flattering than it is rotten. This has been a very enjoyable way to have my skull sonically caved in, and I look forward to letting this one grow on me more.
Mettadone - Pray For Help [OFFICIAL VIDEO] - YouTube
Well, I guess the Pope is a zombie now. Admit it, you all saw that coming. A religious leader, let alone one that wields as much influence as the head of the Catholic Church? Come on. Whatever, that’s a tangent for another time. For now, let’s talk about the second full-length album by Mental Cruelty, named Inferis. The German quintet brings us this sophomore effort a mere ten months since their diabolical debut, Purgatorium. Actual human pregnancies have lasted longer than the gestation period provided for this thing, which begs the question: Is Inferis premature? Is that turnaround too quick for anybody to expect another Pergatorium?
For those who haven’t sampled Mental Cruelty‘s particular brand of brutal deathcore displayed on their debut, you can expect an exquisite riff factory that didn’t sound like very many others. Vulvodynia, maybe? Or perhaps Ingested, but either is a stretch. Part of that identity was solidified by Mental Cruelty‘s scalpel-sharp splicing of riffs and down-tempo slams. Factor in Lucca Schmerler’s intimidating vocal arsenal and a vaguely ecclesiastical perspective on the Apocalypse for lyrical content and that sums up the majority of what this band offered. And it worked.
However, on Inferis this cruel clergy infused a choir and some other symphonic baubles, presumably for the purposes of bestowing a divine majesty unto this effort which did not exist on Purgatorium. I happen to welcome that addition, being the extra cheeseball that I am. But somewhere along the way, some of the personality in the vocals was exorcized as well. Instead of Lucca’s ultra-guttural, widely varied utterances of yore1, we get a more standardized growl with only remnants of the gullet remaining. A healthy growl it may be, and we do still get some six-foot-deep rumbles and the strange gurgly brees that I loved from Purgatorium, but none bring my blood to boil as before.
Thankfully, The Riff is still strong with these boys. As before, riffs ripple with chugs and trem-picked melodies (“Priest of Damnation”) and Mental Cruelty unload plenty of slams to bring hammers down all over the goddamn place (“Planet of Misery,” “Tormentum,” “Human Evisceration”). The best examples of this tried-and-true strategy have to be “Mundus Vult Decipi” and “Cosmic Indifference,” a leviathan double-whammy right smack in the middle of the record. Marvin Kessler and Dennis Paßmann pour riff after riff after riff upon the now probably suspecting, but still ass-kicked listener while the symphonics pull back and let Viktor Dick’s bass-work apply major buffs to the already pummeling affair. “Cosmic Indifference” takes a different tack, allowing a small ghost of melody to possess the song, which eerily strengthens it more completely than you’d presume. As an added bonus, “Monocerotis,” the largely instrumental closing track, happens to be a techy surprise which shows off Kevin Popescu’s solid battery of the kit (as if he wasn’t already demolishing that same kit all the live-long day anyway).
Here’s the rub. Inferis is a solid deathcore record, but the fact that I can pick and choose sterling moments and songs from the lineup only illuminates its greatest flaw in that it is nowhere near as good as Pergatorium. The more time I spend with Inferis, the more I miss the unrestrained evisceration that was “Father of Abomination,” the massive fist to the throat that was “The Venerable One.” That debut blasted many of deathcore’s go-to albums to smithereens. Inferis feels closer to another charred shard of shrapnel in the rubble left by its predecessor.
Oh, well! Those who like this stuff will probably buy and spin the shit out of Inferis. That is an acceptable life choice because there’s plenty to enjoy here. For those who demand more pizzazz in their deathcore, I suggest cautious optimism for the third outing and a renewed hard-on for the first. Regardless, keep a close eye on Mental Cruelty because when they are on their A-game, they play some seriously sweet brutal deathcore.
Like many metalheads, I prefer some genres over others. My appetite for dense slabs of doom appears insatiable, and however much fetid black metal I draw from that icy well, my thirst remains unslaked. This doesn’t mean standout albums from other strains of metal escape my notice. Two years ago, ostensible grindcore band Full of Hell dropped twenty-two minutes of distilled wretchedness that, in any year that didn’t include future classics Relentless Mutation and Mirror Reaper, would have easily secured my AOTY spot. Trumpeting Ecstasy‘s untempered viciousness and surprising experimentation was a breath of putrid air amongst the usual Cherd-bait of 2017.1 Had I been employed by this hallowed site at the time, I would have seriously considered slapping a 4.5 on it and endured the cries of “Overrating bastard!” hurled at me from my superiors. So when I saw follow-up Weeping Choir pop into our promo bin, I jumped on it faster than Game of Thrones‘ quality tanked once it outstripped the books.2
Weeping Choir is the fourth full length—and first on Relapse—from these Marylanders and comes just two years after their last. Having previously gone four years between LPs while releasing splits and collaborations with everyone short of Beyoncé, it’s nice to see the band take some “me” time. This narrower focus results in a subtle evolution of the band’s sound, as Weeping Choir sports a diversity of styles well beyond grind. There are still short bursts of brutal violence, but the more experimental moments of Trumpeting Ecstasy are expanded upon here. There are several tracks featuring electronics of varying prominence. Straight-up, knuckle-dragging death metal (“Silmaril”) lives alongside grotesquely mutated hardcore (“Thundering Hammers”), while the album’s centerpiece is “Army of Obsidian Glass,” a seven-minute, idiosyncratic sludge doom cut that will grab the attention of anyone who enjoyed Thou‘s 2018 EPs.
Opening track “Burning Myrrh” fittingly combines most of the album’s elements into a single violent blast. There are heavy chugs, searing tremolos, explosive drumming courtesy of Dave Bland and a vocal attack that includes roaring death growls, blackened screeches, and hardcore shouts split between main vocalist Dylan Walker and bassist Sam Digristine. The song’s tempo eventually decays until it crawls to a stop without sacrificing any ferocity. Much of the album continues the powerviolence assault, but when “Army of Obsidian Glass” brings back the slow tempo after the album’s mid-point, it’s a revelation. A measured, swaying riff is backed by an odd moaning choir through most of its runtime. With two minutes to go, there is a marked pause before the song blooms into a conspicuously beautiful guitar line and clean female vocals by Lingua Ignota. It’s a powerful moment that underscores Full of Hell‘s genre-transcending talent.
With so many collaborative projects under their collective belt, perhaps most notably with avant-doom outfit, The Body, Full of Hell has never been averse to risk-taking. This spirit—and perhaps The Body‘s influence—leads to the one element on Weeping Choir that returns mixed results. Electronics play a larger role here than on Trumpeting Ecstasy, most notably with “Rainbow Coil.” It’s a creaking, amorphous, Lynchian track, and while the specific sound and feel do fit the album, its placement and length are an issue. Arriving as track four of eleven and boasting the second longest run time, it effectively drains all early momentum by the time it slowly fades to silence. Its closing machine gun beat is picked up seconds later in the aggressively driving “Aria of Jeweled Tears,” but “Aria…” is a relatively weak track when compared to the surrounding material. On the other hand, late highlight “Angels Gather Here” is far more successful at integrating electronic noise. It’s a rusted, lurching, full-on industrial metal speaker blower, and it ends on the kind of Trinity Broadcasting Network sound bite that bands salivate for.
Weeping Choir is something of a transitional album, slowly pushing outward into multiple sonic directions. The band has more than enough talent to pull it off, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some unevenness along the way. Normally, being unimpressed by one track and tepid on another out of eleven wouldn’t garner many demerits from me, but when said album is only twenty-five minutes total, it’s harder to gloss over. This hiccup aside, Full of Hell have once again delivered an album as adventurous as it is vicious and solidified their standing as the cream of the grindcore crop.
During my short tenure at AMG, I’ve discovered the magical terror that is the Promo Bin. While it is a World War I-esque no man’s land of one-man black metal carpet bombs, awkwardly rumbling deathcore tanks, nu-metal mustard gas, and experimental drone-doom PTSD, you can find some gems in the trenches while the good Lord Himself picks us, contributors, off one by one.1 It’s a trve and rvthless battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, Jedi vs. Sith, Kramer vs. Kramer, power metal vs. actual metal. It’s all about balance, after all. Beginning with 2017 debut Light and Death, this balance is a clear focus to Austin, Texas sludge/noise/black metal/whatever act Glassing. Their Brutal Panda sophomore album Spotted Horse, which they describe as “fast slow medium dark happy chill gnarly” (while inviting others to interpret it in their own ways), truly embodies all these descriptors and more in a portrayal of stillness and violence.
While comparisons to noise-oriented sludgemeisters such as Kowloon Walled City and Old Man Gloom are warranted, the Glassing project is still extremely difficult to pin down. One minute they’re pummeling you with Thou-esque molasses-thick sludge/doom riffs in chaotic rhythms, the next caressing eardrums with post-rock influenced melodic plucking that would make Continuance or Milanku jealous, with Frontierer-inspired mathy freak-outs scattered in between. The vocals range from tortured blackened howls to barking hardcore shouts, giving a sense of desperation and fury, while layers of feedback and ambiance paint the background. Their titanic post-metal songwriting is also of note, recalling the sprawling epics of Isis or the dense chaos of The Ocean. With such an expansive range of influences, does Spotted Horse make its own mark or will it just add to the noise?
While imperfect, Glassing‘s sophomore album hones what made Light and Death effective and tightens up the loose ends, releasing one of the most unique sounds in recent memory, a true gem found in promo bin sludge. Tracks like sprawling opener “When You Stare,” mathy spazz-out “Lobe,” blackened blaster “Sleeper,” and doomy “Way Out” feature balls-to-the-wall sludge riffs that pair eerily well with the reverb-laden melodic guitars atop. On the flip-side, while still reveling in ragged textures, tracks such as the howling and hollow “Follow Through,” interludes “Coven” and “Fatigue,” and surprisingly serene closer “The Wound is Where the Light Enters” display a focus of meditation and peace, an eye of the hurricane. The clear highlight of Spotted Horse is centerpiece “A Good Death,” its use of ambiance, melody, mathy freakouts, blackened blastbeats, and devastating riffs (and the seamless transitions between each) painting Glassing at their best: a fusion of serrated and smooth that is nonetheless bloodletting. It shows each member’s respective technical prowess clear as day, powerful in each’s own right, but more than the sum of its parts in beauty and heft.
The only flaw Spotted Horse has is its songwriting, which is nonetheless crucial. While each passage is executed with precision and chaos in stunning measure, the transitions between them often lack cohesion. Tracks like “When You Stare” or “Bronze” feel like novelty tracks at times, with riffs and melody awkwardly juxtaposed to generate shock, and are incongruous from one passage to another. Their lack of effective transitioning shows that Glassing is a young band still honing their craft, after all and Spotted Horse remains another stepping stone toward the pinnacle. Even so, the purpose of the album is its irregularity, so this is easily forgivable.
Spotted Horse is a simultaneously serene and jagged work, weaving its influences and strengths into a complex palette of meditation and devastation. It’s a fantastic successor to Light and Death and improves upon it in every way, and a monument to sludge metal or, like, whatever this is. In spite of its originality, it nonetheless shows that the band’s youth still rears its baby-faced head in their jarring transitions. But in light of the refreshing sound and striking balance of beauty and brutality, it’s easy to forgive and even easier to enjoy. Much as the Good Lord’s bullets of good taste rip through contributor skulls everywhere, Glassing indeed hits the sweet spot.
In my early days of metal fandom, there was a period of roughly two years – spanning from the time I stumbled upon DragonForce‘s Inhuman Rampage to when I began exploring Darkthrone‘s discography – where I listened to nothing except for power metal and thrash. During this period, as I worked on my sloppy renditions of “Eagle Fly Free” and “Battery” on a cheap Yamaha electric guitar my parents picked up at a department store, I had an epiphany: why the fuck hasn’t anyone mashed up the two best genres in the world? Sure, hybrids of these genres have long existed, but from Iced Earth to Cellador, no band managed to lean hard enough in both directions to satisfy my craving for this elusive duality. I wanted music that evoked unicorns donned with denim saddles slamming cheap beers. I wanted anti-war lyrics delivered by denizens of Middle Earth. And now – nearly fifteen years later – Paladin’s debut delivers. Even after a decade-plus of evolving taste, Ascension feels like everything I’ve ever wanted.
It’s been said that the opening sentence of any book is vital to hooking the reader. In keeping with this philosophy, the opening bars of “Awakening” command attention with an intoxicating flurry of soaring Lost Horizon guitar harmonies and sharp, party thrash riffs reminiscent of Ironbound-era Overkill. As an opener, this track is an excellent pick, but its focus on power metal acrobatics veils a more varied experience waiting immediately beyond. It doesn’t take long for Paladin to begin tinkering with its immediately successful formula, and while Ascension never loses sight of its Euro-power hooks or Bay Area attitude, elements of melodic death metal inject a welcome dose of aggression and dynamism. Paladin executes each stylistic shift with the utmost conviction, making for a record where every second feels engaging.
While most cuts represent a melding of genres, Paladin manages to divide their influences across Ascension in a way that makes each track unique. “Awakening” and “Black Omen” most heavily explore the band’s power metal side; “Call of the Night” and “Shoot for the Sun,” conversely, are more purely thrash oriented. Yet many of the best tracks here are odd ducks which find Paladin experimenting with more aggressive tones and unconventional structures. “Divine Providence,” for instance, trades off weighty melodeath gallops with Exmortus-esque neoclassical noodling. Elsewhere, “Bury the Light” splices tight, prog-power lead work with deliciously wicked, Skeletonwitch-inspired verses. Ascension’s most ambitious accomplishment by a wide margin, though, is closer “Genesis,” a mid-paced stomper that explores plodding doom riffs and blackened accents in its back half. At six minutes, “Genesis” is the record’s longest track, and feels infinitely more compelling than the longform closing numbers which plague modern power metal.
Ascension’s genre-hopping nature demands a varied vocalist, and guitarist Taylor Washington is fully capable of handling both clean and harsh vocals with skill and confidence. His clean singing can remind of Protest the Hero’s Rody Walker or Rhapsody’s Fabio Lione depending on the circumstances, while his vile, commanding growls recall the tone ex-Skeletonwitch frontman Chance Garnette. His guitar work, alongside that of co-guitarist Alex Parra, is impressively taut and harmony-rich, while the countless rhythmic change-ups and smart cymbal accents from drummer Nathan McKinney further elevate Paladin’s dynamic nature. It’s a shame those accents sound thin in the mix, but aside from diminished cymbals and kicks, Ascension makes for a reasonably balanced example of the modern metal production style. The important thing is that such a guitar-centric record has a solid guitar sound, and the strings here sound excellent, with strong, clear tones bolstering the impact and precision of both the low and high end.
It takes an exceedingly rare breed of record to capture the hearts of a majority of the AMG staff, let alone one that falls within the realm of power metal. Yet as word of Ascension spread through the offices, it quickly became the first staff-wide favorite in the genre that I can recall since Unleash the Archers dropped Apex two years ago. I realize that I’m one of the few power metal pushers on staff here, and that a 4.0 coming from me means absolutely nothing to non-devotees. Yet Paladin’s genre-bending wizardy transcends fandom, making for a level of accessible, exuberant fun that i haven’t encountered since last year’s Necropanther album. I’ve already resolved to make Ascension the go-to soundtrack for my summer. I suggest you do the same, lest you find yourself out of the loop come list season.
What makes speed metal speed metal? Holdeneyemused on this philosophical nightmare not too long ago, and never really formulated an answer. At the time he was pacing around the Angry Metal Break Room like a caged animal,1 muttering incoherently to himself, I spent many an hour watching him, amused, thinking to myself: “Riffs. Speed. Done.” I’m a bit basic that way, but really, as long as the music is speedy and the riffs are good, what cause have I for complaint? Lo and behold, a short time later I wound up with Mystik, the eponymous debut album for Swedish purveyors of speed metal. “What cause have I for complaint?” I asked. And friends, I’m sad to say, I have my answer.
Riffs and speed, I said, and make no mistake, Mystik has both riffs and speed aplenty. For the whole of its thirty-seven-minute runtime—excepting the thirty-two-second outro track—the listener is treated to a non-stop barrage of thick, upbeat riffing as the meat of the album. And yet, I don’t really feel like I’m getting everything I’ve asked for. Lo Wikman and Beatrice Karlsson are certainly skilled guitarists, but for most of the album, it feels like they’re just going through the motions, playing whatever is going to sound good for their designated audience. The same feels true of Julia von Krusenstjerna’s vocals. Her singing hovers in a bit of an awkward place for most of the album. She isn’t quite singing; she isn’t quite speaking. It feels more like melodic narration, which doesn’t exactly muster the kind of energy demanded by the style.
Not mustering the kind of energy demanded by the style is probably the biggest issue Mystik has, and it weighs the album down heavily. I really don’t think Mystik sounds much like speed metal. The ambition, passion, and drive that this style needs to thrive just isn’t here. Certainly, there are a few memorable moments; the chorus from “Nightmares” is surprisingly catchy, and I really like the lead guitar lines from “Lake of Necrosis.” But for the most part, songs blur into each other, despite the general variety of riffs in each one. As an example, I know that I like “Lake of Necrosis,” and remember that it has cool lead lines, but I can’t actually recall any of its riffs or leads at the time of writing. I just remember enjoying it during each album listen.
The production and mastering, unfortunately, do not help matters. There are moments throughout the album where it feels like Sven Nilsson’s cymbal section is given equal prominence to the riffs, and others where his drum kit isn’t nearly audible enough. Worst of all, no instrument has any time to breathe in the crushing master—it wasn’t until the album was over halfway finished on my first listen that I could definitively say there was a bass here at all. And this kind of blurriness is the death of aggression. I don’t doubt that Mystik are looking to sound tough and aggressive, but nothing about Mystik really conveys that properly. Maybe it’s because of the brickwalled sound, or maybe their hearts really aren’t in it.2 When the album concludes (“Ritual (Outro)”), however, with a literal thirty-two second “hail Satan”-style chant, it feels insincere and tacked on, as though for arbitrary aggression to make up for a master that won’t allow it to thrive otherwise.
Mystik has all of the components to make up good speed metal, and the band is certainly not lacking in talent, but the execution simply falls flat. This is sort of like what I imagine would happen if you hired a bunch of freelance musicians and told them to “play speed metal.” It has everything, really—riffs, speed, lyrics glorifying hell-themed adventures—except discernible passion to really push it into where it needs to go. And to me, anyway… that’s simply crucial. Riffs. Speed. Passion.
Quick, everybody lean in and bow your heads so I can give y’all Lice. Not the tasty crawly kind, mind you, but rather the avant garde kind with Niklas Kvarforth (Shining) behind the mic. Love him or hate him, the dude has over two decades of quality songwriting under his bullet belt,1 and Woe Betide You is another top-notch… notch on that belt. Featuring members of Teitanblood as well, there’s a marked deviation from the pitch black misery of Shining; lyrically, darkness still reigns, but Lice take us on a much more colorful and less sonically obvious path to that hateful place. That said, shut your mouths and take off your hats, yo,2 the infestation beggineth now.
Woe Betide You is a pretty sweet album. It’s not necessarily fighting for a spot on my current list of AotY candidates, yet Woe Betide You is one of the most dynamic albums I’ve reviewed to date, right up there with Great Leap Skyward‘s Map of Broken Dreams. Contrasting genres are haphazardly yet harmoniously interwoven into a seamless state ov coexistence beyond the kvlt, so if you’re coming to Lice‘s shindig you’d best come correct: this one isn’t just for the trve, but for fans ov music itself. Atmosphere is everything here, and if a moment doesn’t need to be metal than it won’t be. There are riffs, of course—the front-half of “Roadkill” immediately leaps to mind — yet Lice aren’t interested in getting you to bang your head so much as they are in forcing you to peer into the darkest moodscapes inside that head.
Lice display a penchant for genre-jumping comparable to contemporary avant gardeans Corpo Menti or Igorrr, albeit significantly less spastically so. We’re talking elements of NONE atmoblack, Pink Floyd lounge prog, flashes of Silversun Pickups alt-rock, some deathy bits and even traces ov Angry Metal Beach Bum surf-rock, among other styles, all amalgamated into something curiously cohesive and effective. Guitarist Kirill Krowli takes great pains to make such tonal transitions feel organic, carefully constructing kinetic compositions rife with shape-shifting opportunity. Transformations typically take place at the peak of any particular passage, retaining the scale of what’s come before and harnessing the swelling energy of the apex moment to catalyze a drastic reincarnation. Whether he’s employing bluesy melodies and haunting Agallochian leads (“Roadkill”), savage black metal and Coheed and Cambriesque riffs (“…And so the Ceaseless Murmur of the World Came to and End”) or any of the other myriad stylistic integrations found here, Mr. Krowli’s deft divergence is very much the heart and soul of this album, and this thing is very much alive and well.
Sounding barely alive and far from well—deliberately and effectively—frontman Kvarforth is, of course, also partly to blame/begrudgingly thank for Woe Betide You‘s success. His performance behind the mic is as multifaceted as the instrumental attack, to similar success. One second he’s all lifeless and Celtic Frosty, the next he might be employing black ‘n’ roll screams and pentameters, maybe sobbing or even belting out something akin to Cookie Monster drunkenly lamenting a grievously broken heart (“Pride Eraser”). Kvarforth appears as necessary and only ever does what’s needed within his particular moments of any given song, his presence fluctuating but his performance consistently on point. Woe Betide You is hardly an instrumental album, yet the lion’s share of the work is handled by Krowli and drummer J (Teitanblood). Between the smooth transitions between tracks and the shifting nature of the songs themselves, every element of the album exists to support its surroundings and propel it all onward, the end result being a darkly beautiful, perfectly choreographed dance that defies categorization.
With a 48-minute runtime and zero repetitiveness to speak ov, the album also lends itself quite easily to the start-to-finish play through experience that its music demands. Whatever this is, it works. Blackened post-Pink Floyd is the closest thing to a label I can attribute to this strange creation of Lice‘s, and while Woe Betide You doesn’t blow my mind, it also doesn’t sound like anything else and it does still impress the hell right out of me. For any misgivings one might hold against the frontman, it’d be a disservice to listeners and Lice alike to hold Kvarforth against the band and allow an otherwise excellent album to pass them by uninvestigated.
Summer is coming slowly to New York, and it seems to rain every day lately, keeping a grey, overcast shroud over the Empire State. That means the time is as right as it will be until October for a new October Tide opus of melancholy melodeath. Album number six In Splendor Below sees Katatonia expats Fredrik and Mattias Norrman sporting a new, more illegible logo, and a bit more of a blackened edge at times, but otherwise it’s business as usual for theses purveyors of gloom. Their output still sounds like a mix of early Katatonia and Rapture, and aims to hit that downcast sadboy sweet spot. When it all comes together, their recipe can result in some atmospheric and depressive bounty. However, the band has struggled over the years to reach the same heights that their early output did, and their compositions can sometimes feel a bit generic and bland. They’re always a band I root for though, and I dove into In Splendor Below with the usually high expectations.
Things open on an interesting note with “I, the Polluter” and its decidedly blackened approach to depressive melodeath. The Katatonia meets early Peaceville days vibe is still there but offset by blackened flourishes and Alexander Högbom’s newly evil rasps. It almost sounds like Dimmu Borgir stripped of symphonics and slowed to a crawl at times, and it makes for an interesting turn. The song manages an effective blend of mood and heaviness and it stands apart from the usual October Tide output. “We Died in October” quickly returns things to the expected sound, with morose, trilling leads and a blend of Novembers Doom and Katatonia once again ascendant. This is the kind of stuff I expect from the band and it’s well done and suitably bleak. Music for grey days. The high point comes with “Stars Starve Me” and its heavy Rapture influence. Though there isn’t anything new under the washed out sun, the band excels at these kinds of weepy, sadboy mood pieces and this is them at or near their best. The way the despairing guitar noodling and despondent harmonies play off the booming death roars is well executed and emotionally imposing and makes me crave a whole album of material at this level of craftsmanship.
Also quite good is “Guide My Pulse” which cleaves close to Slumber and Rapture in ways that force me to get on board. It’s downcast but aggressive, with forceful death vocals that keep things grounded and heavy amid the melancholy noodling and doomy harmonies. “Seconds” is more of their tried-and-true recycling of Brave Murder Day, but over the course of its 7 minutes, the band incorporates a good amount of Opethian tricks and tropes as well for a good end product. Not every song clicks however, and numbers like “Ögonblick av nåd” and “Our Famine” bounce off my ears unless I’m intensely focused on them, despite the interesting Dark Tranquillity hints in the latter’s cold, isolated vibe. They just lack a certain memorability and though I never feel a need to skip them, I don’t need to hear them either.
The biggest problem with In Splendor Below is its tendency to become background-y unless you are giving it a very focused listen. The songs tend to bleed together, especially on the back-end, and my attention is faltering before the album is a third of the way through its 44 minutes. It’s never unpleasant but it isn’t always exciting. Performance-wise, Alexander Högbom does a fine job, his death roars are deep and imposing and his forays into blackened rasps work well too. The guitar-work by Fredrik and Mattias Norrman is solid and often emotional, but the riffs don’t always stick or feel memorable. They’re at their best crafting pretty but sad harmonies and those are almost always first-rate. The knock is that they don’t always lead to memorable songs, and that’s the case here, as it has been on their past few outings.
In Splendor Below is an inconsistent but pleasant enough listen with a few fairly impressive cuts and others that feel a tad underwhelming. It’s the kind of solid album you wish was a bit better, but that’s par for the course with October Tide‘s career arc overall. Long story short: You can definitely get your sads on here, but this is unlikely to make many end of year lists.
OCTOBER TIDE - I, The Polluter (Official Track Stream) - YouTube
Metal ebbs and flows. Genres get popular, fall out of favor, and then go through extended periods of dormancy before once again experiencing sudden and violent upheavals in popularity. Perhaps the most notable recent example was the metallic hardcore boom of the early 2010s. Back then “Entombedcore” bands like Black Breath and metallized powerviolence groups like Weekend Nachos were the cool kids on the block that every blog was posting about. Yet today, while some of these bands are still going strong (Full of Hell and Nails1), many have either disbanded (Enabler and Trap Them) or become largely inactive (Black Breath).
For a while, Colorado’s Call of the Void fell into this last category. The quartet gained some attention with 2013 debut Dragged Down a Dead End Path and 2015’s Ageless but have been pretty quiet ever since, other than a brief EP in 2016. It’s quite a shame, too, as the band have a fairly unique style that exists somewhere in the void between hardcore, metal, punk, and grind, with a few drops of sludge on top for good measure. Third album Buried in Light marks the group’s grand return, but will it beckon a new upheaval for the genre? Or at least the band?
Not really, as there are a few changes here that don’t always work out. Light is noticeably less savage than past albums, a quality that’s immediately apparent in the vocals of Patrick Alberts. Whereas Ageless and Path showed Alberts employing an irate roar, here he sounds a bit more stripped-down. The approach works fine for sinking the hook in early highlight “Suck Me Dry” (not to mention delivering some surprisingly melodic moments in “Drowning Hour” and the title track), but he lacks the commanding presence of past albums and becomes a bit monotonous. Likewise, while there are still plenty of fast and charging rhythms, Void have incorporated a lot more mid-paced moments this time around. “The Master” and “God Hunts” almost sound like KEN mode songs with their stomping beats and bass-heavy menace, while “ReDeath” stands out by building off a pummeling, tribal rhythm and adding a subtle industrial whirr to the guitars.
The riffing maintains that somewhat dissonant quality that almost sounds like a more off-kilter version of All Pigs Must Die. Songs like “ReDeath” and opener “Disutility” even incorporate some uneasy chords that call to mind dissonant black metal. But let’s be honest: Void have never had the most captivating riffs or memorable songs. In the past this wasn’t an issue because the band kept things brief and ferocious, but that’s not the case with Light. At 13 tracks and 45 minutes in length, Light is anything but brief, coming in at over 10 minutes longer than Ageless and a full 20 minutes longer than the debut. It doesn’t help that several songs end unceremoniously without delivering the crushing conclusion they deserve. Likewise, the album is loud and can be exhausting to digest all at once.
Fortunately the production is very good despite the volume, with a clear sound that accentuates the lively drumming and allows you to hear every strained vocal chord in Alberts’ voice box. The bass guitar is pulpy and occasionally peaks out from behind the riffs in very KEN mode-esque way. It helps that there are several standout tracks near the album’s end that mix things up with a bit more melody. “Almighty Pig” moves from gyrating intervals to thrashy riffs to a high-register chorus in grand fashion, while “Lurker” uses some wonky notes to good effect.
Yet on the whole it’s hard to be overly thrilled with Buried in Light. I was actually pretty excited when I read the promo blurb for this, as the band describes Light as “a concept record about what drives people to walk away from everything—from blind servitude or to suicide in a seemingly ‘perfect’ world.” Sadly, this compelling theme falters in execution. Extending the runtime and reducing the savagery simply does not play to Call of the Void‘s strengths, and as such more memorable riffs or exploratory songwriting definitely would have improved things. There are still some good cuts here and as a whole Light is worth checking out for fans of Trap Them or All Pigs Must Die. Yet I can’t help but wish this Light shined just a little brighter.