Friday, 17 January 2014

Culted - Oblique To All Paths

I tried to review this album without mentioning the Culted's geographically fascinating backstory, but the disconnect between the members (Three of whom reside in the remote Canadian prairies while vocalist Daniel Jansson lives in Gothenburg, Sweden. They have never met.) had such an impact on my interpretation of the album that I felt compelled to bring it up. Throughout the entirety of Oblique To All Paths I was unable to shake the feeling that Jansson's voice was like some terrible long-lost recorded artifact, and that the musicians had been tasked with writing an appropriately unsettling piece of music to accompany it, when in fact their recording process is quite the opposite way around.

Both the instruments and vocals are swathed in layers of effects; the guitars can occasionally sound like the scraping of long-ossified bone on cracked concrete, the drums hit with all the impact of anti-materiel rounds fired into the hull of a rusted tanker, and the vocals sound like the last transmission of a man slowly bleeding to death in the middle of a frozen tundra. It is an unremittingly bleak collection of sounds, expertly fused to create an unpleasant but wholly immersive experience.

I would be genuinely surprised if anyone is able to listen through this whole album without needing to take a break more than a couple of times. Sombre piano jabs lead into 'Illuminati' which actually possesses something vaguely resembling traditional song structure, there's a riff and everything! It may be accompanied by more of Jansson's feral, cybernetic howls, but it's a riff nonetheless. However the following track, 'Intoxicant Immuration', contains no such concessions to structure; it's more akin to floating facedown in the slowly pooled blood of a thousand bathtub suicides.

With Oblique To All Paths, a title taken from a quote from occultist Austin Osman Spare, Culted fulfil their intention to "explore an artistic or philosophical path regardless of societal expectations". Whilst filtering elements of doom, black metal, industrial, noise and much more into their musical output, Culted sound completely unlike any other band. Follow down their dark path at your peril...

Read my full unedited review at Echoes And Dust...

Culted on Facebook | Bandcamp

Saturday, 4 January 2014

UPYR - Altars / Tunnels

As far as I am aware, Upyr are the first metal band from Bulgaria that I've ever listened to, and judging by the bleakness of their demo Altars / Tunnels it must be a fucking horrible place to live. Seriously, despite doom becoming the most prevalent genre of metal to arise in the past few years, very few new releases sound as genuinely miserable as this.

Opening with a spot of string-strangling feedback, 'Altars of Necrotic Karma' soon unveils its malicious intent when the skull-rattling drums and doomed-to-death riff kicks in. The mix unfortunately leaves the drums sounding a little too echo-y and out of sync with the rest of the band, but seeing as this is their first demo recording, it's a small fault that can be forgiven.
A fast-paced midsection allows the band to drag things out of doom territory for a short while before the tempo comes crashing back down again, making the slower sections seem all the more devastating. It's clear that the musicians in the band have a grasp of dynamic songwriting that is often all too lacking in the doom genre, whilst vocalist Brodnik has a great range, switching between death growls and blackened shrieks. If UPYR are able to develop the depth of ideas heard in this first track alone, their debut full-length is going to be something truly special.

Second track 'Into the Tunnels of My Sleep' begins with sparse, mournful guitar before unfurling into a monstrously bleak slab of funeral doom. Here Brodnik's vocals are akin to the almost drawled delivery of Scott Kelly, before he dredges up a truly harrowing bellow to accompany the crushing atmosphere of the music. As much as I hate to just endlessly focus on the vocals, there's another section in this track where you would swear that they managed to rope in Jeff Walker to lend his foul rasp, it's such an uncannily accurate piece of Carcass karaoke. The interplay between guitarists Spasm and Tymnokryw is excellent, especially towards the end of the track, when one of them takes the opportunity to rip out a solo that flows perfectly alongside the main riff. It's one of this chill-up-your-spine moments. So damn good.

'Hymn to Pan' opens with some pretty, plaintive guitar, a stark contrast to the oppressive heaviness of the previous track. It's a welcome variation, though you can't help but wonder how long this peace can last? It turns out that the majority of the track is in this vein, but the overall vibe is one of unease, constantly wondering when the calm will end and the storm will descend.

Final track 'Welcome to the Ritual' is exclusive to the cassette release, and is an early rehearsal recording. The blown-out drum sound of the earlier tracks is thankfully replaced by a much more organic sound here, while the music is a heady mix of hypnotic passages and lurching, stop-start riffage. It sounds completely different from the previous tracks, which rather than making the demo sounding messy or unfocused, is an excellent indicator that UPYR simply have more ideas than they know what to do with. If they continue to crank out such interesting, varied tracks on future releases, they could well become Bulgaria's premier exponents of all things heavy.

You can pick up a copy of this demo on cassette via Serpent Eve Records which I highly recommend you do as it's one of the best demos I've heard in a long time.

UPYR on Facebook | Bandcamp

Friday, 3 January 2014

Fleshpress - Tearing Skyholes

Finland's Fleshpress may take their name from a Grief song, but it's clear from the opening moments of 'Washer', the first track of their 8th release Tearing Skyholes, that this is a mere vestigial influence by this point.
During the opening minutes of this track they're more akin to mid-to-late period Earth, replete with bright, clean tones and glacial pace, but things soon take a turn for the harsher with an abrasive noise-rock rhythm and the addition of vocalist Marko's repellant bark.

The absolutely monumental closing track 'Each Eye Holes The Sky' begins with layers of corrosive guitar and pounding drums, increasingly building the tension of the track to the point where it becomes almost unbearable, the layers of guitar interweaving and overlapping before the track finally coalesces into a recognisable rhythm. Revolting, orc-like grunted vocals babble maliciously just beneath the surface, while the band seemingly abandon the momentum they spent so long building in favour of short guitar breaks with an almost western vibe.

This is another perfect example of what Fleshpress do so well on Tearing Skyholes; they establish a solid rhythmic base which they then use to veer off on wild exploratory tangents, without ever becoming convoluted or boring. Yes, there's a fair bit of fretboard fuckery, but never at the expense of interesting riffs. The track deteriorates further with each repetition until the riff is so distended and warped that it's barely recognisable from the track's beginnings, before dissipating into corrosive feedback, the equivalent of the slow death of rusting machinery.

Read my full review of this release over at Echoes And Dust...

Fleshpress on Facebook | Bandcamp

Servants Of The Mist - Suicide Sex Pact

With Suicide Sex Pact, Tampa’s Servants Of The Mist have released a half hour of devastating doom that’s just as fatal as its title.

First track 'Absence' opens with a slurred sample of creepy Christian classic ‘Jesus Loves Me‘, also recently used by dearly-departed UK doom fiends Ishmael on their track ‘Buried With Fingers Crossed’; whether it’s being sung by a children’s choir or a drunken depressive, the effect is just as chilling. Why do those weak enough to need the Christian crutch take comfort from lines like "Little ones to him belong – they are weak, but he is strong"?
I will never grasp the complicit surrender of self to a fictional character just to give people an excuse for their pathetic, weak-minded actions. That docile servitude, indoctrinated since birth as the sampled song proves, has been exploited to nefarious ends for millenia by now, and is still given free reign to continue. Baffling.

The sample draws to a close, replaced by the piercing feedback that has been a genre staple ever since a group of New Orleans miscreants first started to Hate God back in the late ’80s. Guttural growls over distortion and feedback is not a new formula by any means, but the Servants choke the life out of it regardless. What sets them apart is that they sound truly miserable, and by the time the track lumbers to an end you’ll have felt every damn ounce of their weight upon your shoulders. I think that depressive atmosphere is what attracts me to this particular strain of heavy; there’s no better soundtrack to wallowing in your bad decisions, and realising that life is a disappointment.

With this release, Servants Of The Mist may not be reinventing the wheel, but they do give it a few more screeching spins on its rusted axle. Highly recommended if you like your doom despondent, and your samples unsettling.

Read my full review of this release over at The Sleeping Shaman...

Lazarus Blackstar / Black Shape Of Nexus split

I've been a fan of Bradford's bleakest, Lazarus Blackstar, ever since stumbling upon their debut album Revelations many years back. Their maniacal fusion of sludge and noise on that release absolutely sickened me, since at the time I hadn't even heard Eyehategod or Unsane yet, and I guess you could say that Lazarus Blackstar were one of my gateways into the uglier side of heavy music.
It's been with great interest that I've followed them from their earlier material with Paul Catten's demented howl, through to last year's excellent Hymns For The Cursed with new vocalist Mik Hell's fearsome growls.

When they released a split 12" with Glasgow's Headless Kross earlier this year, featuring guest vocals from none other than Alicia Morgan (of NYC legends 13), they really established themselves as one of Britain's foulest exponents of gut-churning doom.

This latest slab of filth, a split 12" with Mannheim's Black Shape Of Nexus via Alerta Antifascista Records, will hopefully turn more people on to both of these excellent bands, and have the current crop of weak UK 'doom' bands cowering behind their Dopesmoker reissues. I'm looking at you, Black Bong Goat Witch Whateverthefuck.

Black Shape Of Nexus begin their side with the monumental 'Honor Found In Delay', a not-so-subtle nod to Neurosis, who are obviously a big influence here. The slow build of the riff is soon joined by vocalist Malte Seidel's hoarse bellow, which coincidentally reminds me in some places of former Blackstar vocalist Paul Catten. Around the halfway point of the track, things switch up to a ominous, bass-heavy rumble, strains of feedback weaving throughout. There's not much in the way of variation, but the sheer propulsive power of the track is perhaps their sole intention. Who needs variety when you've got sheer driving force?

Their second contribution, 'Always And Only', is another sterling example of bass-led riffage, Stefan Kuhn's prowling groove locking the whole thing down. For a band with 6 members, they all sound remarkably focused on creating a solid, unified rhythm, instead of veering off indulging each member's individual whims. Though I've never made it to Mannheim, I have spent a lot of time in industrial Germany, and BSon really do produce a fitting soundtrack to the endless sprawl of purely practical architecture, miles and miles of red brick and steelworks... their sound is as lean and effective as German engineering itself.

Lazarus Blackstar open with 'Command And Control', the guitars of Lee Baines and Izak Gloom possessing a slightly more mournful edge than usual, and Mik Hell's growl even lower and more demented than ever. This track is probably the most out-and-out 'doom' thing they've recorded so far, it has that perfect degree of despair set to a sound heavier than the weight of 6ft of gravedirt on a casket lid.

Closing out their side with 'Whispering Through Broken Teeth', a track just as nasty and unpleasant as it's title, which doesn't so much have riffs as it has audio maelstroms, sucking you down into the murky depths below. Again they eschew the sludgier, more noise-oriented material of their beginnings, in favour of a tar-black strain of doom, even incorporating the sound of a mellotron, and chanted, semi-clean vocals. If this stylistic shift is more than just idle experimentation, and further material in this vein is handled as excellently as it is here, I'm so goddamn excited to hear more from them in the coming year. Here's to hopelessness.

Black Shape Of Nexus on Facebook | Bandcamp
Lazarus Blackstar on Facebook | Reverbnation

This review originally appeared at The Sleeping Shaman.