Atriarch spread their darkness, face death, oppressive forces on murky ‘An Unending Pathway’

AtriarchI don’t know why so many people smile so much, and probably the most irritating thing in the world is when someone tells you not to look so glum. Cheer up, buddy! I feel like people who live that have completely isolated themselves from reality because, if you take a long, hard look at society, things suck regularly, and we are forced to endure a series of endless mental beatings.

Politicians play games with people’s lives and well-being, nothing is more important than money, and you need to have all the latest shit otherwise your life and presence are meaningless. Sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but that’s a large dose of reality, and a band like Atriarch has a firm stranglehold on the dimmest, most oppressive angles of life. As a result, their music wallows in darkness. You might find that when tackling their work, you feel like a mentally beaten shell of yourself, lying somewhere in a dingy basement while a leaky pipe drips cold water on your forehead in the most irritating example of waterboarding ever. Yes, this Portland death/doom union recognizes those awful realities that surround us, and they aim to tear out of their shells and grasp onto whatever remnants of their spirits and psyche remain in order to overcome all the horrors. They’ve done that over two excellent full-lengths–2011 debut “Forever the End” and 2012’s “Ritual of Passing”–and that sentiment carries over on their devastating third opus (and first for Relapse) “An Unending Pathway.”

Atriarch coverAtriarch’s music certainly stands out in the extreme music world, and in the metal community in particular. As noted, there is heavy doom and strains of death throughout the band’s music, but there also are elements of deathrock and goth rock to be felt, which make the proceedings even blacker. Lenny Smith’s unmistakable, anguished croon sits out in front of this band, as he wails away and tries to find strength in the worst of times. Along with him are guitarist Brooks Blackhawk, bassist Joe Wickstrom (a newcomer since their last record), and drummer Maxamillion, who round out this formidable, imposing group that’s here to drop the hammer on that which holds us back and refuse to piss on the eternal funeral pyre of those very ideals that cause us harm.

Opener “Entropy” begins with eerie, chilling noises, an ominous sign of what’s ahead. The band lurches on, finding some morbid power in such a dank environment, and Smith’s later charge of, “We are all God’s children, and we are all condemned,” puts a bloody exclamation point on the thing before it dissolves into chaos. “Collapse” is dreary and cold, with Smith warbling, “An endless soul, a dying soul, there is no ending and no beginning,” as the band finds a sense of primitive savagery. Later the singing gets slurry before fierce shouts emerge, and the conclusion of the song is just pulverizing. “Revenant” rings out, stinging your ears, before drums take a militaristic approach and Smith unleashes a ferocious growl that’s far different from his typical nasal croon and snarl. The song bleeds slowly in spots, with some beastly moments here and there and vocal torment strangling you at the end. “Bereavement” is a total mauler, something you don’t always get form this band, with the guys unloading an unforgiving assault and the vocals just retching. It eventually evens out, with the singing getting cleaner, the playing getting gothier, and the emotions delivered via hammer, but much of this is as heavy as Atriarch get.

“Rot” is the longest song on the record, running 7:27, and it has a clean, foggy opening, with voices swirling and threatening. Smith imagines a simplistic death and even tidier aftermath of returning to ash, as he howls, “So when I die, bury me here, with no casket or trinkets from life, I’ll decompose into the Earth so the cycle is whole.” The track is utterly dark but also has a bizarre positivity of one man accepting and relishing his role in a natural life cycle. “Allfather” begins misleading, with a calm, even tranquil start before the track erodes, complete with Smith’s vocals registering vicious growls. The song is psychologically gory, with the band building layers of sound on top of each other, and every time you think it’s slowing down, it tears gaping new holes in everything and spits rage. Closer “Veil” is both full of anguish and ripping with terror. Smith goes back and forth from harsh death-like howls to purposely monotone warbling, while the band delivers an assault that’s awash in punk and doom, with noise shimmering. As the track reaches its end, it sizzles and erodes, letting melting pieces of metallic shrapnel fall by the wayside, before it eventually returns to the same noise soup that opens the record. It’s sort of like the album itself is accepting of death and bringing on its own demise.

At first, Atriarch’s music might make you wallow even deeper in the muck and make you wonder if there is any way out. But don’t ignore the band’s defiance, strength, and anger. They are lashing out, trying to affect change within themselves, and refusing to be weighed down by life’s bullshit. Maybe that isn’t always possible, but we must try. Use “An Unending Pathway” as a guide, if you must, and find out if the music and emotions conveyed on these seven tracks don’t cause your blood to rise, your fists to clench, and your will to survive to push against whatever holds us back.

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Dawnbringer’s devotion to pure metal takes cold, bloody twist on weird ‘Night of the Hammer’

Chris Black of Dawnbringer

Chris Black of Dawnbringer

If only all musicians, metal or not, could be half as inventive and ambitious as Chris Black. Not only would music as a whole be a lot more tolerable, but we’d have a giant collection of artists whose work is worthy of our time. But that’s not where we live, and Black goes relatively unappreciated by the more mainstream metal crowd.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with dining on mainstream metal, but hearing Black’s work could do that audience a world of good. His creativity resulted in some of Nachtmystium’s best work ever, and his own bands including Pharaoh, High Spirits, and Dawnbringer have brought him to the forefront of underground metal, where he enjoys one hell of a stellar reputation. It seems like the man never rests, and his devotion to the roots of metal and building on those sounds makes him a figure worth revering. Black found a new peak the last half decade with his Dawnbringer project on 2010’s stunning “Nucleus” and 2012’s unreal concept album “Into the Lair of the Sun God,” a record that found favor among just about every corner of the always fickle underground. Now he’s back with a new Dawnbringer album “Night of the Hammer” that is some of the band’s strangest and most varied work.

Dawnbringer coverBlack and his crew still are devoted to the sounds of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and if you dine on classic Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Manilla Road, and Dio, you’ll find a ton to like with “Night of the Hammer.” One big alteration is the greater focus on Black’s voice, as he delivers layered lines that would sound glistening and fresh coming from a classic rock radio station. He is a more-than-capable singer, and now he’s letting himself branch out in the area more than ever before. He also throws a few curveballs on this album, that sounds glorious but is awash in gruesome violence, but those really shouldn’t throw anyone who is a fan of Dawnbringer’s early work or who understands Black’s headspace. In fact, it might take you back to the band’s earliest work. Oh, we’re focused on Black here, but he’s not alone, as Scott Hoffman, Bill Palko, and Matt Johnsen provide the ample, tremendous guitar work.

The record gets off to a gritty start with “Alien,” as it hits a nice groove and has aforementioned layered vocals that give the singing an even richer feel. It’s an odd choice as an opener considering it’s not an adrenaline charger like “So Much for Sleep” or “I,” but it’s a pretty cool song with a damn catchy chorus, with Black getting ominous by observing, “Every night they’re calling me to them.” “The Burning Home” warns of danger on the horizon, with Black howling, “Hide your sons, war has come.” It feels like doom is on the doorstep, like a black swarm of clouds and an unforgiving twister aiming to chew the entire landscape. “Nobody There” is one of the strongest, most memorable songs on the record, with chugging guitars, deliberately delivered vocals, and a tremendous chorus, with Black poking, “Where will you run to?” The slide guitars that color the back end add a nice bit of texture to the thing. “Xiphias” has a folkish feel to it, complete with Black’s vocals that could go just as well with strings and whistles as his metallic backing. Like the rest of the record, nothing but darkness in on the path, as Black matter-of-factly notes, “We won’t survive,” as the song situates itself in watery terror. “Hands of Death” has a classic pace of a Dio song, with start-stop riffing tending the fire, Maiden-esque lead lines blazing the way, and some great, burly soloing that closes the song.

“One-Eyed Sister” is another noteworthy cut as it has a hard-edged sea chanty feel, with Black telling an ominous, bloody tale that could run chills down your spine. Along the way, the bass buzzes, the guitars are richly melodic and dark, and the vocals hammer home the story with maximum effectiveness. “Damn You” is a killer, and one of the most menacing tracks on the album. The opening feels uneasy and bloodcurdling, and the music goes toward bristling doom. The chorus could not be more simplistic, with Black coldly calling back the title, but it works so damn well. Also, lines including, “Are you now prepared to greet the ghosts from hell?” lets you know all you need to about this song’s intentions. Then the album gets weird. “Not Your Night” delves into death metal territory, sounding more like something off “In Sickness and In Dreams,” and while it goes along with the foreboding sentiment of the record, it feels a little odd. Same goes for “Funeral Child” that sounds like a tribute to King Diamond. Black goes for the extreme falsetto with his vocals, which takes a little getting used to, before things settle back down, with Black urging, “Turn your face away.” These two tracks aren’t bad cuts at all, they just feel like they’re out of place sonically. Closer “Crawling Off the Die” buttons up the record nicely, with clean guitars eventually giving way to some drama, the glory of the band’s sound swelling for a final time, and Black singing that he’s indeed off to do that the song’s title indicates.

This is the first Dawnbringer record in a couple of tries that doesn’t totally resonate on first try, but there’s nothing wrong with albums being growers. In fact, I like ones that are because you kind of have to earn them and put some effort into understanding the work. Black continues to push ahead being one of metal’s true ambassadors, and even if he’s not on the tip of the tongues of mainstream fans quite yet, I doubt that concerns him. This is more powerful, challenging, and ultimately fun music from Dawnbringer, one of the most consistent bands in metal this decade.

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Live review: King Diamond comes back to Pittsburgh, brings the great Jess and the Ancient Ones

King Diamond at Stage AE  (Photo by Brian Krasman)

King Diamond at Stage AE (Photo by Brian Krasman)

Most of us never will be in the presence of royalty. We wouldn’t be allowed that close anyway. Most of us never will be in the room with a U.S. president or world leader. I have been before, and it’s really not a big deal to me at all. But being in the room with some of the most important figures in the history of metal is attainable, and I was able to be within arm’s length of one over the weekend.

This entry is a pivotal one for this site, for we never have run a live show review before. For the most part, those bore me and I don’t see the point in them. But when you’re in a photo pit mere feet away from King Diamond and you get to see an artist who shaped your taste in metal and that you never saw in the flesh before, things change. So here I was, this past Sunday at Stage AE on Pittsburgh’s North Shore, a stone’s throw from Heinz Field where the Steelers play (badly) watching King Diamond’s crew assemble the cemetery gates that adorn the front of his stage. I couldn’t believe my luck. Here I am, this guy who runs a metal site that pales in comparison to the big ones out there, and I’m going to be able to witness King Diamond, with no barriers in front of me and with me being able to document the evening. How can you ask for more than that?

Jess 6

Jess from Jess and the Ancient Ones at Stage AE (Photo by Brian Krasman)

Well, before we get to the King, we had openers Jess and the Ancient Ones, a band we’ve made no bones about loving thoroughly and who I was really excited to see live. This is a band that, if they did their own U.S. tour, likely and understandably would not hit Pittsburgh. But luckily our headliner has good taste as he hand-picked the group to open his tour. The Finnish band, led by the alluring and powerful singer Jess, looked totally up to the challenge of playing before a roomful of rabid King Diamond fans, and they seemed to do a killer job converting the masses. Jess wailed, let the moment strike her as she seemed caught in a trance some moments, in the throes of dark magic the others, while her band blistered away, delivering their unique brand of occult rock that’s sticky and totally intoxicating. This has to raise the band’s U.S. profile.

When their time came around 8:15, the band wasted no time launching into “Prayer for Fire and Death,” the first track on their self-titled debut from 2012, a record I’ve pretty much overdosed on ever since getting the music. They play with a great amount of confidence, with Jess stomping the floor, her body writhing, and her voice taking command. From there it was into the great “Astral Sabbat” from the EP of the same name, and the thing has a restless spirit and mysterious fire to it that could sweep you right up. “Sulfur Giants,” the best song in their canon and also from their debut, brought the place to the ground, with Jess constantly returning to her infectious refrain of, “I wish I’d never been born.” A brand new track “Casteneda” followed, and it was well tempered and made a nice impact on the set. The band finished off their rousing set with two more from their debut record with “Devil (in G Minor)” and “Come Crimson Death.” It was pretty obvious milling through the crowd that the band turned a ton of heads, and they had a decent amount of customers at their merch table. Also, retreating to the back of the room for the end of their set, it was stunning how the band’s sound and Jess’ incredible voice had no problem making it to the back of the hall with force. Can’t wait to see them again.

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King Diamond and Andy Larocque (Photo by Brian Krasman)

King Diamond and Andy Larocque (Photo by Brian Krasman)

The excitement was obvious for the arrival of King Diamond who, on his own, had not played in Pittsburgh since 1998 (though he had been in town since then with Mercyful Fate). An imposing set of cemetery gates were assembled at the front of the stage, and when the curtain dropped, it revealed a huge, elaborate set that looked like a horribly haunted house, with stairways on each end for the band members to enter and frequently use during the set. Opener “The Candle” from the King’s debut album “Fatal Portrait” kicked off with great dramatics, with our star appearing at the top of the set to unleash his unmistakable and still powerful falsetto. The whole band was jammed full of energy, with King Diamond looking like he is more than enjoying his second chance at life. He reached through the gates, played air guitar on his skeletal microphone stand, and barely stood still for a second while he sounded like a man half his age. By the time the band rolled into “Sleepless Nights,” the machine was absolutely on fire, channeling their heathen best and pounding through the beloved basher from the “Conspiracy” album. Then the song most people probably came to hear arrived early, as the King belted into “Welcome Home,” complete with Jodi Cachia under the grandma mask, as she and her grandson tussled, taunted one another, and finally ended their battle with our face-painted hero coming out the victor. It was a haunting and fun moment, where you get a little sense of humor with your horror.

(Photo by Brian Krasman)

(Photo by Brian Krasman)

From there, the band dashed through classic after classic, touching on “Never Ending Hill” from “Give Me Your Soul … Please”; the title track from “The Puppet Master”; and a jaunt though “Tea,” “Digging Graves” and “A Visit From the Dead.” When the opening strains of Mercyful Fate staple “Evil” launched, the crowd burst to life again, as King sounded a great as he did 30 years ago on this thing, with longtime guitarist Andy LaRocque blazing and completely dominating the song. It was his finest moment of the night, which is saying something because he was awesome throughout. Another Fate cut “Come to the Sabbath” fed off the momentum, and once again, everyone just nailed the thing, with a ritual going on behind the King as he wailed away. “Shapes of Black” and “Eye of the Witch” put the finishing touches on the main set, before all the morons who apparently never have been to a live show and had no idea an encore was coming started to file out of Stage AE. Their loss, as “Cremation” followed a brief break by the band, with the song feeling both liturgical and utterly evil. From there, the band headed into two cuts from “Abigail” with “The Family Ghost” and tremendous “Black Horsemen,” before reflective, eerie “Insanity” from “The Eye” sent the audience home happy and wonderfully enchanted.

It was an amazing night for a life-long metal fan such as me, as well as the mix of young and old (and everyone in between). It was a spirited evening, the people seemed well behaved and genuinely happy to be there, and both bands more than delivered. If you have a chance to see this tour, absolutely go. It’s always a great night when you can spend it listening to one of the most storied acts in metal in King Diamond. Plus, to hear an up-and-coming band such as Jess and the Ancient Ones prove the stage wasn’t too big for them and that they utterly belong bodes well for the future.

(Thanks a ton to Earsplit PR for their help with getting photo access and media privileges for the show.)

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Venowl keep spreading terror and alarming horror on splits with killers Cara Neir, Highgate



So, it’s Monday, and that means it’s as good a time as any to get nice and agitated. You probably don’t feel like doing half the things that are in front of you, and the weekend is as far away as any point in the week. Frustrated now?

A good remedy for that goddamn itch that won’t leave you alone is music that sounds like it exists to gnaw on your nerves and piss off those who can’t grasp what it’s all about. That’s where Venowl (][ on guitar, vocals; // on bass, electronics; :: on percussion) come into the scene. If you go online and read people’s reviews and comments about their music, you’d think these guys personally insulted those peoples’ families or stole their dogs. Yes, the music they make certainly isn’t easy to digest, and it can be confusing and insultingly confrontational. That’s why I’ve enjoyed the band’s work, because it is as non-formulaic as it comes, and you never know what’s lurking next. Their songs sound like free-form, open-ended forays into madness that feel like they could last all day long if they so desired. There’s little structure (at least that I can here) or tangible direction, and it just sounds like a flow of aggression that lasts as long as it needs to until the guys don’t feel like killing anyone or themselves anymore. I mean all of that as a huge compliment. I love it.

Luckily for people like me who dig the band’s brand of mind-crushing noise, there are two new split efforts for our consumption. And because we’re focusing on Venowl, let’s not lose sight of the two bands they’re featured with also are killer groups. One of them is killer Dallas unit Cara Neir, who released last year’s tremendous “Portals to a Better, Dead World” and who play an atmospheric, emotionally melodic brand of black metal, punk, and noise. On the other release, Highgate is featured, a sludgy, doomy band whose last full-length landed last year in the form of “Survival” (out on Totalrust Records). Their sound is a little closer to what Venowl do and they also drag you through an epic-length mauler that’ll leave you nice and bruised.

Venowl Cara NeirLet’s start with the Venowl/Cara Neir split, yours via Broken Limbs as a limited-run cassette release. Here, Venowl unload “Scour (Parts I and II)” onto you, and it’s a miserable, devastating experience from the word go. Dissonant noise rings out and forms a death cloud, while sickening, nauseating doom bleeds out in full. It feels like everything is burning badly, with a heavy aura of insanity, drone creepiness, and deranged howls and shrieks that sound like that of a mentally disturbed individual. There’s a feeling of anguish and oppressive mental trauma to be heard, with guitar squall hanging in the air, riffs absolutely bludgeoning, and toward the end of the 21:02 track, feedback vibrating and pissing anger, with final shrieks unloading the last traces of torment. Awesome cut. Totally messed up.

Cara Neir are slightly more conventional creators, with three tracks here that are catchy and fiery. “Aeonian Temple” explodes into black metal chaos, with the band pushing hard with tricky playing and interesting melodies that could get your blood bubbling. There even is a classic screamo sense to the music, and it’s one hell of a blast from these guys (vocalist Chris Francis, multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents). “Nights” is a curveball in a sense, with jazzy guitar work, speak singing, and a feeling that Faith No More might have been an influence on this cut. Eventually some gazey guitars burst into the picture to add more texture, and it’s a really cool change of pace. “Pitiful Human Bindings” has a mathy feel at first, but it doesn’t take long for the black metal trappings to push through, wild cries and screams to pierce, and cascading levels of sound to make this beefier. The final moments are nicely spacious, as the song trudges and bruises its way to a finish.

Venowl HighgateUp next is the release with Highgate, out on Tartarus Records and also limited to 100 cassettes. Here, Venowl stretch out even further with “Vacant Cellar,” a track that runs 34:04 and feels like it’ll keep bleeding forever at points. The opening is dank, like it’s zeroing in on a damp basement somewhere with noises like a blade against vulnerable skin. Doom starts to flood, with wild shrieks and screams expressing emotions most humans never have the misfortune to experience. The track spends its time hammering away, remaining a formless creature, and coming off as quite feral. At around the 10-minute mark, the piece begins to sound like a collection of people wailing and dying, as it descends into mucky hell. About 15 minutes later, it turns into a horror show, with doom churning, the vocals finding new levels of deranged, and the atmosphere aiming to suffocate you in stinking rags. The punishment never relents, with a savage meltdown, a heaping serving of drone, and deafening feedback twisting and smothering until the track finally meets its end. This is exhausting in the best possible manner.

Highgate takes time to set up their scene on the 26:15 “Carved Into Winter.” The band—Steve Porter, Greg Brown, Nate Powell, Shawn Kirst—opens up a cavernous sound, with the feeling of cosmic vastness that meets up with buzzing, steely guitar work that sometimes reminds of Across Tundras at their dustiest. The power then really kicks in, with raspy growls emerging, guitars getting muddier, and the pace feeling a lot more dangerous. The growls keep stretching out, with the band trudging heavily behind, but then things go more melodic and glimmering. But they never lose their edge, as they’re massively heavy no matter what pace they’re setting, and they head right into a pocket of crushing feedback and spacey sizzling. Later, some cleaner guitar work arrives, as the band plods along and keeps their mission deliberate but strong. Finally, their intensity returns, the growls explode anew, and the track tucks itself away, thoroughly satisfied with the way it both pulverized and mesmerized you.

Venowl’s bound to always be a band that annoys and infuriates more people than they convert into followers. They probably relish that idea, because it’s clear their music isn’t here to make you feel good or achieve positivity. But, you know, not all music needs to meet the same goals, a point so many people miss. Venowl are here because they’re supposed to be the way they are, and they’re great at fucking with you. So deal with it. The fact they’ve released some poisonous new music packaged along with great bands such as Cara Neir and Highgate—both way more than worthy of your attention—goes to show their peers agree. Go jump on these limited releases because they sound like nothing else you’ll hear that way, which is a great and horrifying thing.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Menace Ruine’s dreamy beauty shines through the darkness on ‘Venus Armata’

Menace Ruine 2Beauty in metal and heavier music is not a commonly written-about topic here. That’s not on purpose. I guess the natural inclination is to steer toward the dark, violent, depressing, crushing. Plus, since we avoid symphonic metal outright, there’s not much chance to discuss lovely sounds in what’s an otherwise dark musical format.

Not that Menace Ruine don’t have their dark moments, but what I generally find when taking on this Montreal-based duo are sounds that reveal incredible colors, emotional depth, and music that doesn’t make me want to maim and pillage. Instead, I want to reach out with my imagination and keep dreaming. I want to stretch my creativity. I want to escape inside these sounds and absorb every beam of light they emit. The band’s music, which isn’t really metal but certainly can slip over and impact that audience, is a mesmerizing mix of drone, neofolk, gothic sounds, atmosphere, and the spellbinding singing of Genevieve Beaulieu, which are as alive and transcendent as ever on their new, fifth album “Venus Armata.” In fact, even if the sounds don’t grab you at first (expertly put together by S de la Moth), the voice will, and you might find yourself hanging on every breath without even knowing you’re doing it.

Mence Ruine coverMenace Ruine have had a prolific, yet criminally under-appreciated run ever since their formation in 2007. Having offered their debut full-length “Cult of Ruins” in 2008, they’ve reported back pretty regularly, following with “The Die Is Cast” that same year, “Union of Irreconcilables” in 2010, and their Profound Lore debut “Alight in Ashes” in 2012. They’ve also had their work released by noted labels such as SIGE, Alien8, and Aurora Borealis, and they’ve slowly built their following while sharpening their incredible work. On “Venus Armata,” they have put together their best work to date, and while it may take a few visits for the songs to begin taking root, once they do, you’re gone. You can feel the power and spirit pulsating in these songs, and the journey on which you should take mentally will leave you enriched and intellectually refreshed. That’s something brutality hardly ever gives to you.

“Soften Our Evil Hearts” begins the record with cold bells chiming, noise drone rising and getting lathered up, and the atmosphere continually building. Beaulieu’s vocals join the mix, and her mesmerizing ways snake through the song, always keeping you alert and wary. The music feels like a thick fog, with the signing coming on like it’s directing an early morning spiritual, with the tempo twisting and treading up to the end. “Red Sulphur” is a great track and might be my favorite in this band’s entire canon. A blanket of sound feels like they’re being emitted from ancient organs, and Beaulieu unreal vocals kick in. She sounds like a magisterial storyteller, and her harmonies are completely arresting and infectious. Psychedelic sounds arrive, and drums even push things ahead, but all the while the singing is the hook, one of the great performances of the year that should make other singers jealous. It’s hard to do this justice in words. Go listen to it. “Marriage in Death” has slowly delivered drumming, with guitar squall settling in and the singing sounding more solemn. The track bobs slowly on its waves, navigating you through the night, leaving your body quivering like the music. “Soothing But Cruel” is a fitting title for the song it represents, as there’s a deep chill in the air that could sting your cheeks, with emotional vocals that leave cracks in the glaze that forms over top. The composition is glimmering and frosty, with the sounds floating, and eventually dissolving into a deep buzz.

“Belly of the Closed House” stretches over 9:56, and it has piercing strings, a melody that cuts right through the thing,  and layer upon layer of atmospheric playing stacked so high, you can’t see the top. Eventually the vocals emerge, sounding like something magically recorded out of a dream, and the last portion of the song begins to weigh a little heavier, with thick drone and a penetrating show of force. “Torture of Fire” feels shivery and woozy at first, with echoey beats shooting out and striking the walls. The vocals take a different approach and have a new personality than elsewhere on the record, and Beaulieu sounds pretty dangerous. The 16:17-long closing title cut introduces itself by ringing out sharply and drone lowering itself to the ground for a final push. First, the vocals slip behind the noise, which sounds like a million insects buzzing, but then Beaulieu breaks through and takes control. The melodies—both from the music and the vocals—are swirling and trance-inducing, and maybe this is just something I’m pulling out the song, but there’s a sense of sorrow that embraces you like an old lost friend. The emotion conveyed is unmistakable and real. Organs pile on again, the tempo picks up and begins to vibrate with light, and the final sounds create one last cutting swoop before turning into vapor and disappearing before our eyes.

Menace Ruine can be a breath of fresh air for listeners who are too bogged down in violence and negativity. Beauty and light are elements we need to grasp, and even when there are darker moments on “Venus Armata,” I can’t help but feel uplifted when the whole thing’s over. It’s a work of poetry as much as it is a collection of songs, and never have I enjoyed a Menace Ruine record this much. And I love their back catalog. This is worth every ounce of your energy investment in these seven songs, and they will reward you a million fold for your effort.

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Sunn O))), Scott Walker join forces and create disturbing, dark collaboration on ‘Soused’

Sunn WalkerWhen people think of daring collaborations involving metal artists and those outside that circle, most people’s minds likely will turn to the unmitigated disaster that was “Lulu.” Even the idea of Metallica and Lou Reed working together seemed like a bad concept before the final product came down, but people with the highest of hopes perhaps thought it could transform Metallica’s creativity. Yeah, not quite.

There have been plenty of other times when metal artists reached outside their boundaries to create something new (Merzbow’s many collaborations in the scene, Boris’ criminally under-appreciated project with Ian Astbury), but sadly the bloated corpse “Lulu” likely always will be the thing that rises to the top of the conversation. But maybe that doesn’t always have to be that way. Maybe we can change that talking point. I offer a new touchstone in the stunning new combination of doom-drone warriors Sunn O))) and former-teen-heartthrob-turned-avant-garde-artist Scott Walker on the incredible “Soused.” Now, here’s one that on the surface already brims with promise. Yet, you have to hear this thing to truly appreciate the melding of the minds and to experience the unexpected results of these two forces coming together. If you’re expecting Walker’s confrontational, warbling voice over a basic Sunn O))) record, prepare to have your mind blown. It isn’t that at all. Yeah, sure, you do get waves of it here and there, but it isn’t the dominant trait. Instead, each side works with each other, coloring and expressing what comes to heart and mind, and forming a different machine than what may have expected. It’s unbelievably exciting but also frightening at the same time.

Sunn Walker coverAs for Sunn O))), Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson are no strangers to collaboration, having released a set this year with Nordic dreamers Ulver and also having worked with the likes of Boris and Nurse With Wound. They obviously bring the thunder and smoke to this thing, but they also show more flexibility and out-of-the-box thinking than ever before. And these aren’t exactly guys who stick to a script. As for Walker (real name Noel Scott Engel), this is yet the next step on the experimental trail for the 71-year-old singer. Having initially made his mark in the pop realm in the 1960s with the Walker Brothers (along with John Maus as John Walker), he’s carved out a career later in his life as a daring, ambitious, even uncomfortable artist, finding even more acclaim and adulation with his last two surreal, menacing records “The Drift” (2006) and “Bish Bosch” (2012). This union makes all the sense in the world, and the excitement drummed up before this record was released is matched and surpassed now that the music is in our hearts and haunting our dreams.

Opener “Brando” is inspired by actor Marlon Brando, and it opens with Walker’s operatic-style crooning ripping the lid right off. He’s joined by warm guitar lines that actually sound inviting, but that doesn’t last long, and the drone curtain drops heavily and lets extreme darkness envelop that area, while Walker goes on to poke, “A beating would do me a world of good.” Along with his lines of tribute, a bull whip cracks in the background, guitars stab and taunt, and a strange noise almost like whistling add to the odd environment. The drone rises up again at the end, with Walker calling, “I’m down on my knees,” before the sound finally dissipates. “Herod 2014” is an ominous one, with bells chiming and an effect that sounds like a propeller in motion. “She’s hidden her babies away,” Walker wails, as drone fires up in spots and horns tease the tension. There is some incredible wordplay by Walker on this one, especially lines such as, “Bubonic, blue blankets, run ragged with church mice,” delivered with equal amounts of playfulness and dread. The song is eerie and full of danger, and it’ll stick with you long after it ends.

“Bull” blows open from the start, and oddly enough, it has a conventional rock feel to it for its first minute or so. Eventually things melt down, noise begins to whir heavily, and Walker sings over the murk, urging, “Keep moving on,” while the violence swells in the background. The last few minutes of the song let the doom rise and waft, retching and smothering until it finally comes to its end. “Fetish” is a confrontational one, with Walker barking, “Red, blade points knife the air,” with horns snaking behind the terror and horrifying sounds making the picture even more nightmarish. The narration is coolly crooned, while industrial huffing creates even more tension and abuse. The drone hits again, with a tremendous psychotic breakdown giving way and the guitars working back to drill hard. The tempo and power rise and fall in the final minutes, with Walker’s singing allowing everything to fade away. Closer “Lullaby” helps whatever hairs that haven’t risen to this point stand at attention. Walker matter-of-factly notes, “Tonight, my assistant will pass among you, his cap will be empty.” There is an uncomfortable calm and deranged music setting the scene, but when Walker howls, “Lullaby!” it gets ever chillier. The song progresses back and forth, always circling to its beginning and taking another run through the mist, and the track and record finish with noisy chirps and Walker’s singing standing as the last thing you hear.

For fans of Sunn O))) or Walker, this is a must-hear record, the combination of two great forces that make magical, terrifying things happen together. If you’re not familiar with one or either and don’t have daring tastes, this will be a tough listen similar to being beaten down in a pool of your own blood. But hey, maybe a beating will do you some good. “Soused” will prod, poke, agitate, and offend, and certainly this union wouldn’t have it any other way. This is the epitome of collaborative art, and a chance to give two equally dynamic artistic giants a chance to melt together and bleed for us all.

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Encoffination’s death worship sounds lurching, punishing on terrifying ‘III – Hear Me O’ Death ‘

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Photo by Greg C Photography —

So let’s go ahead and harp on this point again, and for the second day in a row. There’s a reason that people clamor for music they refer to as “real death metal.” It’s right there in the title: death. What about that is supposed to be slick, uplifting, catchy, and shiny? It’s death. It’s the end of all things. That isn’t supposed to be a particularly happy time, and many of us don’t care for our death metal to make us feel exuberant and pumped up.

That’s why I take a particularly morbid fascination with bands such as Encoffination, a group that sounds like it is the musical embodiment of death, the cessation of life. Their music is slow, drubbing, torturous, and sounds like it is one step away from shutting its eyes artistically for the final time. Nothing about it feels good or will get you jumping up and down like an idiot at a live show. You should be depressed, have darkened feelings that cannot be saved, and see only the worst in the music you are hearing. That’s exactly what you get with Encoffination and their suffocating third album “III – Hear Me O’ Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs).” That mouthful of a title alone should clue you into this being a dreary, miserable experience, and if that’s what you’re into, you won’t have a perversely worse time this year. Uh, in a good way. It’s the glorification of death, and that requires an abyss such as this.

Encoffination coverEncoffination is the work of two horrific souls, that being guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ghoat and drummer Elektrokutioner. Both men also play together in Father Befouled and also dot the lineups of countless bands including Beyond Hell, Chasm of Nis, Vomitchapel, and Howling. Ever since their arrival at this point in their journeys in 2008, they’ve been drumming up doom-blasted death metal that crawls painfully and scornfully, taking its time to spread its pestilence to ensure it has covered every inch of their battleground. From their 2010 debut “Ritual Ascension Beyond Flesh,” to their sophomore effort “O Hell, Shine in Thy Whited Sepulchres” a year later, to now, they’ve been making noise that fans of band such as Incantation, Mournful Congregation, Grave Upheaval, and Impetuous Ritual should find disturbing and strangely satisfying.

Opening hymn “Processional – Opvs Thanatalogia” begins the record perfectly, with doom bells chiming, throaty chants beginning to unleash the horror of it all, and the sounds of panic that lead into “Charnel Bowels of a Putrescent Earth.” The song is as disgusting as its title indicates, with the bells carrying over, a pulverizingly slow death march pushing forward, and infernal growls that sound voiced by a demon. There are hints of melodies, as morbid as you can imagine, and the song keeps spinning and scraping zombie-like all the way to its finish. “Cemeteries of Purgation” opens with deliberate drumming and guitars that are heated until they boil over. The vocals lurch from Ghoat’s mouth, with the pace remaining a death crawl, with trails of blood and ooze left behind it. The track keeps hulking and crushing, with the growls eventually turning to pained moans, sounding like those of a mortally wounded soul. “Crowned Icons” keeps the tempo where it’s been the entire record, and eerie noises give way to a drum beats that push a little harder and sweltering, damaged guitar work. There are some interesting moments toward the end, as the fellows play with some different sounds, but for the most part, it’s a beating rendered until submission.

“Rotting Immemorial” has an ugly, retching open, as it pulls you into the fog and toward further defacement. The guitars bleed and trickle all over the ground, leaving a real mess, and doomy hell erupts later and brings everything to a painfully slow ending. “From His Holy Cup, Drink; Come Death” runs 9:29, and it’s the first of a concluding triptych of songs that stretches across the record’s final half hour. Doom-encrusted smothering begins immediately, with the guitars simmering over top, the pace reaching slightly more animated levels, and the growls gurgling in a pool of nearly congealed blood. “Pale Voices” goes 8:44, and the drumming takes the grip from the start, setting the pace for the song and bursting through barriers. The vocals again sound pained and barely gasping at air, while the guitars are more frenzied and dizzying, with the drums setting a militaristic atmosphere. This thing just squeezes and squeezes until you have no more air in your lungs. The 10:28-long closer “Mould of Abandonment” is situated in another deep puddle of doom, with bendy and weird guitar lines strung about, vocals that sludge along like they’re dying, and filth choking out every living thing in sight. There are solemn, dark guitar melodies that arise toward the last half of the cut, with the music quivering, the tempo suffocating, and the final words croaked out before it all comes to a devastating end.

Horrifying, depressing, and clubbing, Encoffination cure what ails those who thirst for true death metal, with the emphasis on the decay and misery. Three albums in, these guys have proved to be one of the ugliest representatives of the genre, a band that remember the spirit and point of this music in the first place. “III – Hear Me O’ Death (Sing Thou Wretched Choirs)” won’t make you feel good on a Saturday night or be the fodder for silly arm swinging in the put, but it certainly delivers morbidity in crushing servings that most other bands can’t equal.

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