Friday, 18 September 2015

Nightfell - The Living Ever Mourn LP

Back in 2012 I was lucky enough to catch Aldebaran play a couple of times on their European tour with Noothgrush, and also to finally witness the impassioned fury of a Tragedy show. Both bands put out incredible albums that year, in Embracing The Lightless Depths and Darker Days Ahead respectively. Extrapolating the directions each album took, with Tragedy eschewing D-beat entirely in favour of a lower, slower approach, and Aldebaran taking their already abyssal sounds to even murkier depths, it's actually not that hard to see how Nightfell came to exist.

Even so, when master of mastering Brad Boatright first mentioned a project brewing between Aldebaran's Tim Call and Tragedy's Todd Burdette, I responded with some glib comment along the lines of "Funeral d-beat, eh? I'm in!". When many months later The Living Ever Mourn was released, any preconceptions I may have had were utterly obliterated by these 8 tracks of terror.

Despite the disparity between each member's other bands, this album is neither simply slow crust punk or fast funeral doom, taking its musical cues from neither doom the genre, nor Doom the band. What it does do is channel the mournful qualities and aggressive atmosphere present in all of Burdette and Call's previous output into something wholly unique, allowing each of them to operate outside the constraints of their other bands. The result is an album that is almost deliberately difficult to classify.

Opening track 'The Last Disease' begins with chiming guitars, before being joined by some downright bombastic drumwork from Call. When they settle into step, the riff is immediately recognisable as one of Burdette's; no-one else manages to infuse that much sadness into their anger, and express it through six strings and amplification. The double-kick rhythm and UGH-ed vocals set this apart as being a far more metal proposition than his usual work, but the synth interlude that leads into 'I Am Decay' doesn't allow things to settle into one particular mould. The track features everything from frenetic drums to funereal string bends, and since it never drops down to the extended torture of doom tempos or gears up to deliver sharp jabs of punk, the overall effect is more of an incessant pummeling.

'Empty Prayers' pushes the boundaries even further out, with Burdette's layered singing (yep, singing) giving the track an elegiac choral atmosphere. The sparse acoustic guitars that enter the fray from around the halfway point are even more unexpected, though they are but a momentary respite from the overwhelming hopelessness before a gigantic fuck-off pickslide and cacophonous clatter bring everything crashing back in.

The blackened buzzsaw tone of 'The Hollowing' is another total departure, demonstrating that if nothing else there's certainly something here for everyone, no matter what your preferred strain of metal. It never feels like they're stretching themselves thin, each track has such an individual identity, yet still feels part of a cohesive whole. Y'know, the way an album should do?

The next interlude is the seemingly obligatory 'move to Portland, start playing neo-folk' moment, but it's thankfully soon brushed aside by the hulking riffage of 'Altars To Wrath'. This is the only song on the album that I could actually picture coming from the players involved, so effectively does it combine their typical styles. The track becomes increasingly Frost-ian as it goes on, perfectly demonstrating just how influential Tom G Warrior's troupe were on every single fractured facet of metal.

Closing with 'Funeral Dirge', a galloping, triumphant number that belies its title, once again the cohesion of these eight seperate parts of a whole is reinforced. When the track fades out with martial drums and howling winds, I immediately want to play through the whole thing again, there are so many stand-out moments just begging to be heard. The Living Ever Mourn is a rare beast in modern times; not merely a collection of songs, but a fully-realised album.

You can still get a copy of this slab of excellence from Parasitic Records.

Nightfell on Bandcamp | Facebook 

This review originall appeared over at Echoes & Dust...

Ilsa - The Felon's Claw 2xLP

Dirty DC death-doomers Ilsa are fucking vile.

I mean that in the best possible way, of course, as their particular brand of pummelling crust-meets-sludge-meets-death is a combination of just about all my favourite things about metal, all presented in one putrescent package. With much of their previous output sitting somewhere between the down-tempo murk of 'Domination'-era Morbid Angel and Iron Monkey's more breakneck tracks, excitement was high for the arrival of The Felon's Claw. It is just as horrible as I'd hoped.

Vocalist Orion's death-rattle rasp proclaims the sentence, instantly damning you to the darkness in opening banger 'Oubliette'. The everything-in-the-red mix creates a claustrophobic atmosphere that, given the title, is no doubt intentional, with a ripping solo around the halfway point that is straight-up demented. They cram more energy and filth into these opening 3 minutes than most bands manage across a whole album.

The more morbid listener may recognise '25 Cromwell' as a reference to serial murderers Fred and Rose West, it being the address at which they conducted most of their killings. That their dwelling has since been demolished, with every timber burnt to ash and every brick crushed to dust, speaks to the sheer evil of the acts committed in that house.
The track itself is just as depraved and violent as it's subject matter. Drummer Joshy pounds his kit like he's in a bar brawl with it, each bass drum blow like a fist driven into flesh, while the hyper-distorted riffs have all the impune swagger of the uncaught killer.
You can keep your songs about Satan; this is the sound of true evil.

'Smoke Is The Ghost Of Fire' recalls the zombified lurch of many tracks on their previous LP Intoxicantations, the chugging riff thick and black as tar, while Orion's multi-tracked howls are guaranteed to send shivers up the spine. The mysteriously-titled 'Buried In The Bedrock And Concrete Of Our Cities' doesn't cite any specific horror, which is almost more terrifying. The distortion is so thick in the opening bars that you can barely discern if there's a riff underneath it all, but some wonderfully organic blasts and kick-drum work offer a recognisable rhythm to wreck your neck to.

Dirt and discordance announce 'Pandolpho', before a raucous beer-crushing, horn-throwing passage twists it into one of the catchiest tracks on the record. However they don't maintain this momentum, with an extended doom plod around the halfway point. This Frankensteining of the fastest and slowest sections of The Felon's Claw together seems a bit incongruous, but that's not to say that each half of the track isn't fucking awesome. Following track 'Pass//Out' demonstrates a more effective use of dynamics, with the band switching seamlessly between skin-crawling atmospherics and fast-paced bludgeoning.

The prowling bass of 'Enter The Void' begins a decrepit dirge which seemingly slows with every second until it dispenses of rhythm entirely in favour of feedback, before the opening riff returns, even deadlier than before. By contrast 'Armstrong's Mixture' is as explosive as it's titular chemical compound, an unrelenting crusty ripper that'll leave your head either spinning or banging.

The interminable torture of 'Katabasis' feels like a slow descent into madness, the ever-decreasing tempo and smog-thick riffage continuing the dark atmosphere of the opening track. The fact that the track is named for the journey down into the Underworld taken by a number of mythological figures, from Gilgamesh to Orpheus, and even Christ, will feel appropriate by the time it draws to a close, and you are returned, forever changed, to the land of the living.

The suitably jagged 'Song Of The Saw-Blade' is as close as Ilsa come to anthemic, the Swedeath vibe of the music underpinning Orion's repeated roars of the track's title, making for a discernible chorus of sorts. By the time the final repulsive notes ring out, you'll feel in need of a hot shower. Possibly even some psychological counselling.

The Felon's Claw might not be a huge progression of Ilsa's signature sound, but the fact that they have a sound all of their own is a rarity in modern metal, and this album sees them hone their skills to the point of deadly proficiency. A terrifying trip through the darkest depths of death and doom.

If you're Stateside, you can grab a copy on a variety of colourways direct from A389 Records.

Those of a European or British locality would be best to snag it from EvilGreed.

ILSA on Facebook | Bandcamp

This review originally appears over at Echoes & Dust...