Cardinal Wyrm’s trad doom dashed with darkness on eerie new record ‘Black Hole Gods’

Cardinal WyrmPlay classic-minded doom metal sharply with no tongue in cheek, and I will gladly hear what your band is up to. Do that and add some classic storytelling and evil, creepy dark elements, and I’ll follow you even further. It’s a simple formula, really, and if done right, it will get me every time. I’m not that easy to please, either, but bands that can do these things always have a place in my wheelhouse.

That takes us to Cardinal Wyrm, a band that churns out doom metal as if it was the late 1980s or early 1990s, and their new, second record “Black Hole Gods” is a spectacular one. This band does their thing in such a pleasing, honest-to-goodness way, I can’t help but genuflect in their presence. Heaviness, melody, tales of grime, blood, and death, and cleanly sung vocals that truly bellow all are included in this package, and if you’re a fan of bands such as Candlemass, The Reverend Bizarre, Solitude Aeternus, and Argus, you’ll like love the hell out of what’s going on here. And what you’ll find are eight killer tracks led by this trio that sound honest, properly aged, and classic, and there is so much character and charisma packed into these black odes, you’ll find no other choice than to don a cloak (assuming you have one of those handy), light a candelabra, and indulge in a dark, strong ale so that these songs can have their proper effect on your mind.

Cardinal Wyrm coverAs noted, but three dark souls are behind this band–drummer/vocalist Pranjal Tiwari, who you will not be able to ignore for even a second; guitarist Nathan Verill; and bassist Rachel Roomian. The great Leila Abdul-Rauf (Hammers of Misfortune, Vastum) provides backing vocals on the record, providing yet another powerhouse of a performer. Another added touch to this band is that they are rough around the edges. There isn’t a million pounds of polish on this record, warts are allowed to show, and the band revels in the ugliness that comprises them. All of these things adds more grit and charm to what this band does, and they let you know they are honest with their artistic presentation and ready to drag you on a nightmare of a journey that just might cost you your head. You are warned.

“Deep Within” opens with some crunch, classic doom strains, and a warning from Tiwari, “There is a song no one else can hear.” It makes you think something mysterious is going on beneath the surface, and once you move your way through the rest of “Black Hole Gods,” you’ll find that’s true. “Dreams of Teeth” is the first epic of many longer cuts on this album, and it has a dark, even gothic feel to it, with the vocals absolutely bellowing. There’s a nice, graceful classic doom spirit to the song, and that’s later undercut by some growling, which you only get in spots on this record. That way when they strike, you really pay attention. The cut goes back and forth from glorious to savage, and it has a damn compelling final couple minutes. “Born in a Barren Land” runs 12:38, and it gets off to a faster, heavier start than much of what precedes it. This one’s a violent storyteller that grips you and holds on through the duration, over more harsh growls, some fantastic soloing by Verill that really sticks in you, and eventually some slow-driving madness and mud to grind you into the dirt. “Warden of the Swans” is the shortest song on here at 2:55, and it’s a mix of eerie, liturgical-sounding organs and Tiwari’s ghostly vocal transmissions. It’s damn chilly, and it’s a nice set-up for the second half.

“Leaves of This Hanging Tree” is massive and emotionally devastating, with the doom pots boiling a little slower and really letting the steam build up. The pace lumbers along, the heat is just sweltering, and the vocals sound like they were scraped from deep within the belly and tossed out for all to see in its ugliness. The pace picks up about halfway through, as the band starts clubbing you, and some shrieks settle in to work alongside the melodic singing. “I Am the Doorway” has apocalyptic visions, sinister guitar work, and some dissonant terror that really puts a chill up your spine. The song gets thrashy and mean in parts, and it has a downright thunderous finish. “Cult of Spoiled Spine” has some tasty rock-centric guitar work at the front end, and much of the song heads into more of faster tempo. There’s a cool psychedelic finish, some keyboards lurking behind all of the punishment, and more razor-sharp guitar work. “The Outlier” caps off the record perfectly, with a dark, evil-sounding approach to the music, organs spilling all over like they were cut from a giant’s belly, and another heavy dose of great riffs, of which this band has no shortage. “Waiting, watching,” Tiwari howls, almost like he’s watching behind a door, dagger in hand, ready to pounce. The band hits on a pocket of mind-altering repetition before they start winding down and dropping the curtain on this set of tales.

Cardinal Wyrm’s classic doom and dark emanations are wholly satisfying to a guy like me who enjoys when this type of music can be delivered in a pure, yet gritty manner. “Black Hole Gods” is a fun record, a mean one, and a collection that could have you going back for more, trying to uncover each nasty layer. This is a tremendous band that’s just beginning to make its mark, and anyone who takes a ride with “Black Hole Gods” can get in on the basement level and ride to bloody gory alongside them.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cardinal-Wyrm/157603967620024

To buy the record, go here: http://cardinalwyrm.bandcamp.com/

Swiss death unit Bölzer return with ‘Soma’ EP that should keep their torches burning savagely

BolzerEvery now and again, a band will rise up and capture the imagination of listeners everywhere. You’ll hear their name dropped constantly, you’ll read tons of accounts of people praising their music, and, after a while, you’ll get the reactionary backlash because too much adulation can have that effect on people. Can’t let people have too much success, am I right?

We’re seeing all of that now with mighty death metal unit Bölzer. The Swiss band was the talk of this year’s Maryland Deathfest, and their two sets were must-see events to find out if the group could hold up their end live. Needless to say, they lived up to the hype. All of this was built up by the release of last year’s powerful “Aura” EP, a three-song collection that breathed new life into the death metal genre and showed that the music is at its most powerful when played with a deadly approach and passion. Yes, there were many, many people singing the praises of a band that had delivered three songs, but every compliment was worth its weight, and Bölzer’s profile started to rise in the underground. Naturally, there now are detractors coming out of the woodwork because it’s just a natural reaction when something new gets this kind of shine, and those people are entitled to their opinions. But Bölzer also get a lot of talk because they’re damn good, already have their own characteristic sound, and are hellbent on devastation.

Bolzer coverNow, the world is being bombarded with a new EP from the band called “Soma,” a two-track effort dedicated to the goddess Luna that continues on the same bloody path the band has been beating since their formation in 2008. It’s notable that this record doesn’t quite have the same impact as “Aura,” though that’s because we know what to expect from them soundwise, so that initial surprise is no longer there. That said, these songs still are crushing, violent, and damn effective blasts of real death metal, and band members KzR (vocals, guitars) and HzR (drums) sound like they’re sharpening their arsenal before they get us with a full-length document. Until that time arrives, they seem to be satisfied putting out these smaller collections, and as long as they keep sounding this good, who can complain?

The EP opens with “Steppes,” a raw, muscular blast that’s filled with menacing riffs, throaty shouts, and pure aggression. The noise hangs in the air like a poisonous cloud, with everything reaching a boiling point and threatening to bubble over. Angry spoken shouts, eerie transmissions, and a return to their grisly mission of death caps off this song that definitely has its way with you. The second and last track “Labyrinthian Graves” runs 12:48, and it fades in like it’s slowly crawling out of a dank cave. It’s not long before the song absolutely blows open, firing shrapnel and bone shards your way as the band powers through you. There are big, crunchy riffs, and some monotone howling that runs concurrent with the deadly growls, and a pace that finds a steady, but damaging tone. That’s an important note, by the way. The band isn’t going for full-throttle violence on this one, and instead they take their time pounding you, looking for the submission finish rather than a knockout. It works really well, and it keeps the song interesting through its run time. Later in the track, spacey keys crack the atmosphere and hover overhead, and the track fades away in the night, with your soul likely in tow.

Bölzer deserve every bit of adulation they have received the past couple years, and if that has raised their profile and revealed them to more people, good. They remain one of the freshest, most intriguing death metal bands going, and it’s clear from their first two EPs why so many people—myself included—are so excited about them. I’m interested in hearing what this band could do with a full-length record, and they seem ambitious and creative enough to come up with a longer document that’s just as compelling as these EPs. Until that time arrives, we can further dissect and get lost in releases such as “Soma,” which keep death metal’s blood as infected as ever.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/B%C3%96LZER/108657105834227

To buy the album, go here: http://www.invictusproductions.net/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://invictusproductions.net/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Panopticon’s Lunn documents life journey on great ‘Roads to the North’

PanopticonMost of us have challenging stretches in our lives that ultimately define us as a person. Or they inform who we are at a period of time and push us towards life’s next adventure. While what comes at the end of that road ultimately may be rewarding, there are bumps and bruises along the way, challenges we have to face, and a sense that what we are going through will get us to a new heights.

Austin Lunn, the driving force behind Panopticon, recently went through one of those formative periods. With his eyes set on become a brewer, he went to Norway to work an internship at Haand Bryggeriet so he could get more hands-on knowledge on what would become his craft. That meant going overseas and leaving behind loved ones for an extended period, but it has led to his work at Hammerheart Brewing Co. (he is head brewer and runs the establishment with brother in law Nathaniel Chapman). He also became a father for the first time and moved to Minnesota, away from his home in Kentucky, so that he could push forward the brewery. While many of these things ultimately were fruitful ventures, they took time, effort, change, and transformation to get to the point where he is today. All of these experiences led to the new Panopticon album “Roads to the North,” a more personal record than what we’ve gotten used to from Lunn and one that gives a picture into his heart and soul and what helped make him the man he is today.

Over the years, the atmospheric, creative black metal Lunn has made under the Panopticon banner always has been challenging and giving to the listener. But something seems to have stuck when he made “Kentucky,” his record about the plight of coal miners in his home state, which really seemed to inform his music. On that collection, we got an even deeper taste of his affection for bluegrass and American folk music, and those strains were woven into that record in a way not many–if any–other domestic artists are doing. That carries over to “Roads From the North,” as Lunn weaves in the sounds that are as much a part of his DNA as his thunderous metal, and that results in a record that could be a major turning point for U.S. black metal. Like many European bands that mix their nation’s style of folk into their makeup, Lunn has done the same with American music, and it makes for one of the most unique projects in metal today, and one of the most fascinating. Like the bulk of his previous work, I find “Roads to the North” a record that continually gives to the listener and provides new paths for exploration. It’s a stunning document I highly recommend you visit.

Panopticon coverLunn invited some like-minded musicians along with him on this journey, by the way. Joining him on “Roads to the North” are folks including Winterherz of Waldgefluster, Tanner Anderson of Celestiial and Obsequiae, Dave Condon of Altar of Plagues, Ben Smith of When Spring Sleeps, and Johan Becker of Austaras and Vukari, whose violin work is a major factor on this record. And let’s not forget producer extraordinaire Colin Marston, who helped bring this all together and create such amazing sonics. As for Lunn, he really exercises his musical ability and brings a ton of different instruments to the proceedings including dobro, mandolin, banjo, flutes, and many more. The guy’s pretty damn well-rounded you have to say.

The record opens with “The Echoes of a Disharmonic Evensong” that begins with crunchy footsteps, almost as if they’re trudging through an icy forest, and once winds whip up, the song opens. There is serious metallic crunch, but there also are mesmerizing folk rock strains that really carry the whole thing forward. Once the riffs kick in, they pack a wallop, sounding like a meeting of Scandinavian black metal and even some hardcore-laced crushing. The vocals are harsh and passionate, and the track manages to remain utterly compelling over its 10-minute run. Incredible start. “Where the Mountains Pierce the Sky” begins with some mountain-friendly calm, with strings and whistles flaming the embers and giving you a sense of calm. Then the track ignites with more spirited riffs that explode with power, engaging melodies, and an atmosphere that makes me imagine taking cover under tall trees while heavy rains crash down. The track builds beautifully, going from serene to devastating, and the final minutes bring bubbling growls, crunchy thrash intensity, and playing so fluid, it moves like a river.

That blends into the start of a triptych of tracks “The Long Road,” beginning with “One Last Fire” that’s rich with Appalachian folk passages and melodies so moving, they sweep you up into the record. Picked acoustics, slide guitar, and banjo are all part of the picture, and they add a sweeping sense to this rustic gem. The second part, “Capricious Miles,” roars open with the burning intensity returning to full throttle, and Lunn looking back on everything, as well as the road ahead of him, and realizing, “Nothing will ever be the same.” Bluegrass-style strings work their way back into mix, and as the song progresses over its second half, it gets airy and spacious before it thunderous last run. The third part “The Sigh of Summer” has a serene opening and stays that way for about three minutes before bursting wide open with thunderous playing, vicious howls, and furious blasts that propel this track. Like many of the other songs on here, there are peaks and valleys to bring you up and take you back down again, and at one point, a rough bassline blasts in, the pace begins to seriously chug, and surging lead guitar work takes over and leads to some unreal soloing. The track ends on a beautiful note, with whistles and folk ambiance setting up and floating you into the final part of the record.

“Norwegian Nights” is a softer, reflective song, where the vocals are clean and ruggedly expressive with Lunn noting, “My fragile sleep torn from me.” You almost can imagine him tossing and turning, wondering where his life is going, longing for those he left back home. A train passing by at the end perhaps is another callback to his roots. The song blends into “In Silence” that wallows in anything but that. There are blasts of cold darkness, and the guitar work burns on high, giving a sense of tumult and emotional overflow. As the song progresses, the folk melodies return, softening the surroundings with slide guitar, but there is a return to chaos before the track ends, setting the stage for the album finale. That would be the stunning “Chase the Grain,” a track that lets you have one final ride through this portrait of life’s progression, and it starts with elegant strings that lead to metallic waves. The song softens with acoustic guitars, Native American flutes, and woodsy notes, but then it opens up again with cinematic heaviness, huge musical progressions, harsh vocals, and cascading melodies. The final moments reclaim the serenity, letting the music fade out, as the journey comes to its end and a life is changed forever.

No matter what Lunn unearths, examines, or explores on his recordings, there’s never a shortage of inspiration and music that could make your heart and mind race. He’s never been consumed with devils or evil or all of the other things typically associated with black metal. Instead, he provokes thought, makes you think about issues perhaps you haven’t before, and even educates you. “Roads to the North” does all of those things, even if it is more introspective, and anyone who has had a long road to travel on the way to understanding or a new life can find tons of value here. Lunn’s never been afraid to put his thoughts and feelings out there for examination, and this one cuts closest to his heart. Not only will it be exciting to hear where his music goes from here, it also will be just as fulfilling to see how he grows as a man, a father, and a business owner.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PANOPTICONBAND

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=2&products_id=1480

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=202

For more on the label, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/

Or here: http://www.nordvis.com/

Experimentalists Mamaleek poke black metal’s boundaries with mysterious ‘He Never Spoke …’

Mamaleek coverThere is no question metal has changed a lot on the past 10 years. Hell, in the last five. A lot of different things fit under this massive umbrella, and that tends to bother some of the rank-and-file, who want this to be one thing all the time, period. But it just isn’t that way, and as metal’s rolling sphere picks up new influences, Katamari style, the way extreme music sounds has changed forever.

You can hear that very thing in a band such as Deafheaven, who divided the metal crowd violently last year with their heavily acclaimed “Sunbather” album that most people either deliriously embraced or shoved away like a plague. You can hear other deviations away from the primary source in bands including Khanate, Sunn 0))), Bosse-de-Nage, and even a classic such as Godflesh. Things have been expanding, and hopefully they keep going in that direction. And while a black metal enthusiast may cry that a band isn’t keeping it KVLT or TR00 anymore, what does that really mean? And does it actually make sense to keep treading the same path over and over again? Well, a band like San Francisco black metal experimental unit Mamaleek refuse to stay in one place, and they will challenge your very idea of where metal’s barriers lie with their new record “He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word.”

Right off the bat, the album title sounds like it was lifted from a spiritual hymn or something of that nature, and plowing through these challenging four songs might make you wonder if this group isn’t going through some sort of deeper revelation or rusty catharsis. This pairing of two brothers, who remain anonymous, combines electronic forces to create their style of black metal, so right there you know you’re dealing with a band operating on a totally different creative plane. These tracks, as they claim, helped lift psychological and spiritual burdens from their bodies and psyches and let them express the darkness, madness, chaos, what have you that listeners will hear on this record. It’s no paint-by-numbers affair. It’s a smear-outside-of-the-lines, veer-off-the-page, splash-onto-the-table, go-wherever-they-want document, and it definitely won’t go down easy. But nothing on their other three records have either, and this one feels like a demon itching to burst out of their bodies and spread fire and torment elsewhere. It’s gripping and moving, and it will hurt to absorb.

The title track is first up, and it opens in a bed of noise that simmers and floats into harsh shouts that sound as much like bloodletting as they do storytelling. The melodies are incredibly thick and strong, enough to pick you up and sweep you away on their red waves, and a sorrowful tide forces you back to shore with a gaping wound on your soul. There are more desperate cries, cascading keys, goth-dashed colors, and a ghostly ending. “Poor Mourner’s Got a Home” is arresting from the start, with a song playing that sounds like a Middle Eastern folk number rumbling below the fuzz and smoke. It keeps looping around, forming a mesmerizing atmosphere that gives way to sonic destruction. Noise rises up and bubbles over, while sinister melodies cut their way through the piece and meet up with monstrous vocals that denote the dangerous surroundings. Later on in this 10-minute cut, there is some washed out singing, dizzying beats that make your head swim, warped loathing, and tortured wails that stab an exclamation point.

“Almost Done Toiling Here” drowns in static from the beginning, with wild howls erupting from the mire that eventually turn into deranged shrieks. There is a forceful cry of, “Wake up!” that should jar you out of any comfort you possibly could be in during this record, and then the song floats into a section that is damn-near pop-like. Well, sort of. That won’t be obvious on the surface, as those hooks and brighter lights are buried under a million wool blankets, but if you pay close attention, it’s there. Finally, the song reaches a fluid, merciful conclusion that seems to shine a lone beam of light. Closer “My Ship Is on the Ocean” is a metaphorical assault that sounds like it was mined from deep within the band members’ hearts and splattered everywhere. The vocals are pained and desperate, and there is a section of female vocals that add a sense of beauty to such disillusion. The final moments feel like a fever dream, causing you to wonder if what you’re hearing is reality or a lost soul transmitting sounds into your head.

Mamaleek don’t gently walk metal’s carefully drawn boundaries with any amount of care. They work to destroy it, leaving bits of brick and mortar everywhere as they set up their own kingdom and agenda. “He Never Spoke a Mumblin’ Word” is a revelatory experience and one of the band’s strongest efforts to date. It won’t speak to everyone’s minds, but those who connect will do so with impact and a level of understanding that might feel a little uncomfortable.

For more on the band, go here: http://mamaleek.bandcamp.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://store.theflenser.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://theflenser.com/

Protestant build fire, fury into their metallic-laced hardcore on crushing new ‘In Thy Name’

Protestant at Gilead Media Fest (photo by Adam Bubolz)

Protestant at Gilead Media Fest (photo by Adam Bubolz  www.reviler.org)

As we return from our exile following the long, wholly fulfilling pilgrimage to Gilead Media Fest 2014, we head … right back into that very event. Well, sort of. See, when I finally arrived in Oshkosh, feverishly checked into the hotel with minutes to spare, and raced to the Masonic center, when I walked into the doors of the hallowed music hall, I instantly was met by one of the great forces of that fest.

On stage, absolutely ruling, were Protestant. These metallic, hardcore-informed veterans were destroying every happy face in the place, blasting through their day-opening set with a fury and exuberance that was noteworthy and infectious. How could you not immediately get swept up in their sonic assault right away? These guys have been stomping hands, pounding chests, and spreading their punk-fed ethos across the world by way of a number of releases, and their blistering new record “In Thy Name” is so vital, it’s taking two damn labels to get this thing into people’s hands. The great Halo of Flies will handle the release domestically, while the awesome and varied Throatruiner will get this bastard out into Europe. If you’ve been along for the whole ride, or at least a good portion of it, these eight songs will hit you where it counts.

Protestant coverOne thing I noticed from seeing the band live is that their sound is even more metal-encrusted than it is on their recordings. They even have some black metal-smeared streaks running through their roughhousing style, and it’s easy to understand how they can unite people from all kinds of audiences. On this record, they sound as vital and passionate as they ever have during their 10 years together, and it’s a damn pleasure to hear. In fact, I have found it makes for great running music when I’m on the treadmill or sweating it outside in 90 degrees, as its heaviness keeps me going, and its undeniable intensity helps the adrenaline flow.

“Vengeance” tears the lid off the record, with noise ringing out and everything eventually detonating. There’s a neat spacey woosh at points during this, but for the most part it’s a heaping dose of force, crazed vocals, and utter savagery. Great way to kick off an album. “Carrion” bathes in feedback before a hardcore-style stomp takes over and some of those aforementioned black metal-laced melodies show their hands. There are authoritative shouts, chunky thrashing, and clubbing madness that brings the track to its end. “Never Forget” also has heavy influence of the madness from the Nordic second wave, but it mixes with punk power to make for a face-splitting convulsion. The growls are gravelly, and the music feels raw and scorned. “Vultures” blows up right away, with soot and filth spewing all over and a particularly forceful burst of drumming leading the way and causing more wounds.

“Blood” moves slowly, calculatingly, and with a head for doom. That pace doesn’t last, as the band heads full speed back into madness, and the howls of “Crush all!” seem a fitting directive before the song ends in a blur. “In Thy Name/Hell’s Insanity” is blinding and violent, with dark metal shades giving an even more sinister edge, and harsh barks making you feel like a finger is being poked into your chest. The final moments let drone slip in, and that buzzes right into “Forfeit,” a relentless, devastating track that tears right into the flesh. The song winds down its killing force as it reaches its end, but it never loses an ounce of heaviness. Closer “Delusions” begins with shadowy melodies that cascade down, and eventually the vocals tear open the congealing wounds. The guitars catch fire and blaze forward, noise bubbles up and crusts over, and the last moments of burning find a way to sound like they’re flying at you in an uncontrollable rage. But in reality, they know right here they’re headed. Their aim is true, and it’s coming for your throat.

Protestant keep hammering us with great, energetic music with a heart and a volcanic personality. Seeing them live really made the experience an even greater one for me, and I’m happy to have made that connection. If you haven’t done so, make sure you do. In the meantime, “In Thy Name” is one you can hear on repeat, as it goes down that easily but also leaves you nice and bruised. This band keeps rolling along and building momentum, and as long as they keep giving us great music like this, there’s no reason to expect the Protestant storm clouds to subside.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/PROTESTANTMKE

To buy the album, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/label-releases/halo73-protestant-in-thy-name-lp/

Or here: http://store.throatruinerrecords.com/products/530503-protestant-in-thy-name-12

For more on the label, go here: http://www.halooffliesrecords.com/

Or here: http://throatruinerrecords.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Black metal warriors Bastard Sapling push universe on ‘Instinct Is Forever’

Bastard SaplingBlack metal has come a long way since its initial formation, creeping out of the forests, away from the church fires, and past the suicides and hate-filled homicides of the past. And while there are people who always will cling to those things–hey, some people are crazy—the black metal form and its metamorphosis cannot be stopped.

A great example of a band pushing the boundaries and what is possible in this form of music is Richmond, Va.-based Bastard Sapling. They’ve never been a band comfortable with running in place, and from their incredible debut record “Dragged From Our Restless Trance” to their mind-obliterating latest album “Instinct Is Forever,” these guys have done whatever they could to inject personality, creativity, and brutality into their music, but in a way few other bands are doing this successfully. In fact, “Instinct” is a serious contender for black metal album of the year, and at this point in time, with at least four months of music yet to come, it’s going to take a dramatic effort to top it. This record is a dynamic, full-bodied experience that surprises with every listen. There are layers that need peeled back, levels that require exploration, and sounds that deserve your total attention. If you are spending the proper amount of time with this music and connecting with it fully, you’ll realize this is a special release that doesn’t come around every week from a band that just keeps getting mightier.

Bastard Saling coverThe ranks of Bastard Sapling are made up of three member of the mighty Inter Arma, that being vocalist Mike Paparo, whose howl is unmistakable; guitarist Steve Russell; and bassist Trey Dalton. Along with them are guitarist Drew Goldy (he used to be in Inter Arma) and drummer Gregory “Elway” Ernst, and the band has become a weathered, road-tested, punishing alliance that is one of those that is getting a lot of attention from the internet and the metal press. That’s for good reason, and all you have to do is listen to this second album of theirs to find out why. It’s really that simple.

The record opens with “My Spine Will Be My Noose” that starts with terrifying sounds and torture-driven shrieks before the song opens in earnest. From there, it’s a hefty helping of black metal fury, piercing vocals, powerful melodies, and guttural strength that acts as a perfect demonstration of just how far this band has come. “Subterranean Rivers of Blood” has howling noises, razor-sharp melodies that slice through the song, and blinding savagery that could dump you on your side and beat you senseless. “The Opal Chamber” has a burly, thick bassline from Dalton that helps the track slither out of the gates, and dramatic melodies unfold and cause a tidal wave of emotions. The band interacts musically like they’re trying to push each other to a new level of understanding, and Paparo brings the song to raucous finish by continually shouting the song’s title over and over, with desperation dripping. “Elder” then slips in, a mostly acoustic interlude that also is dressed with syrupy side guitars and moody playing that shares some of Inter Arma’s creative DNA.

Up next is one of the best tracks on this record, and one of the most remarkable of the band’s run, in “The Killer In Us All.” It opens with menacing, violent riffs that also are rife with melody, and the song keeps beating and challenging, with Paparo taunting, “There is a killer in us all!” As the song winds toward its finish, the band even goes into near cock rock mode with a guitar section that is tasty as hell, and then everything washes out with fiery lead playing that will stun you. “Splinter of Ouroboros” is one of the shorter songs on the record at 4:45, and it is punishing and to the point. You need tracks like this to act as a bridge to the more creatively ambitious stuff, such as the astonishing “Lantern at the End of Time.” The familiar siren call of Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell opens the song, as she sings over the propulsive first few minutes, and then the band hits full throttle. The clubbing savagery carries over the next few minutes, with fires stoked and smoke rising, and then it’s back into uncomfortable calm. Cottrell returns, wondering, “Where are you now, my oldest friend?” before the band unleashes a final total assault. “Every Life Thrown to the Eclipse” is dark and smothering with some gut-busting start-stop thrashing, as imagery of the world bursting into flames comes into the picture. There is dizzying, off-kilter playing and a constantly changing vibe that keeps the song compelling and unpredictable. Closer “Forbidden Sorrow” lets the ground get soaked in rain, as some flutes settle in and help things get rustic. There are dizzying moments during this finale, with melodies that gush, the sense of an open sky drenching the world permeating, and the whole thing coming to an unexpected, yet sensible ending that lets you end your journey with both feet on the ground, headed toward solace.

Black metal doesn’t have to be about murder or Satan or debauchery anymore, and that’s an incredibly refreshing thing. Bastard Sapling is one of the bands doing the most to push the genre to greater heights of musicality and awareness, and “Instinct Is Forever” deserves to be remembered as a touchstone record in that effort. This thing gets better and bigger with every listen, and anyone being honest with themselves with realize there are greater things going on here than most records we devour these days. Bastard Sapling have had their arrival, and that’s been signaled on high with this great record. Theirs will be a highlight set at Gilead Media Fest 2014, and hopefully this record will open up more people to the possibilities black metal truly holds.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/bastardsapling

To buy the album, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

Or here: http://shop.forcefieldrecords.org/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

Or here: http://www.forcefieldrecords.org/site/

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Bastard Sapling are just one of the mighty bands that will be taking over Oshkosh, WI, this weekend. Here’s a rundown of each band you’ll see each day.

FRIDAY

OOZING WOUND: Gnarly thrash metal that’s both crushing and just a little humorous.

ANAGNORISIS: Latest addition after Inter Arma had to bow out. Brainy black and death metal.

HELL: Nightmarish doom metal that wallows in black metal and drone. A must-see.

ASH BORER: Masters of epic black metal passages. One of the best bands of the past five years.

THOU/THE BODY COLLABORATION: A terrifying team-up of two of doom’s most terrifying bands.

 SATURDAY

PROTESTANT: Passionate hardcore laced with thunderous metal. Their new record “In Thy Name” completely rips. Review coming next week!

HEXER: Unpolished, animalistic black metal buzzing.

OWLFOOD: Hypnotic drone masters. Should be one of the fest’s most interesting acts.

SEA OF BONES: Crushing doom. But, there’s a nice dose of ambiance, too. Gilead Media is putting out their “The Earth Wants Us Dead” on triple LP!

GERYON: Krallice’s rhythm section teams up for rubbery, spacey death metal.

KOWLOON WALLED CITY: Melodic, atmospheric doom. One of the most underrated metal bands there are. Period!

MUTILATION RITES: Nasty amalgamation of black metal, death, and thrash. These guys are killers.

BASTARD SAPLING: We just reviewed them. Go see them. Buy their record. Now.

THE BODY: Apocalyptic doom delivered by this duo. Easily some of the most bone-chilling vocals in all of metal.

WOLVSERPENT: Beautiful and devastating at the same time, combining folk, doom, ambiance, and black metal. This band’s last record “Perigaea Antahkarana” was our No. 2 record of 2013.

SUNDAY

NORTHLESS: One of the loudest, heaviest bands in the world, smashing together doom and hardcore.

ALRAUNE: One of the most promising new black metal bands going. Their debut “The Process of Self-Immolation” is highly recommended.

GENERATION OF VIPERS: Sludge, post-hardcore band with a nasty, dirty edge. Their last record was 2011’s killer “Howl and Filth.”

SEIDR: Atmospheric, cosmic doom and death metal. If you haven’t heard this band yet, why not? Includes Panopticon leader Austin Lunn.

FALSE: Progressive, mind-altering black metal. Lead vocalist Rachel must be witnessed to be believed, and the band backs her up with cascading madness that will warp your soul. Might we hear something new from them?

UZALA: Total road warriors, and one of the most improved bands of the past year. Their latest album “Tales of Blood & Fire” is a revelation.

LOSS: Completely depressing, despair-filled doom metal. Shoelaces and ties (ties?!) should be confiscated from all attendees before their set.

BARGHEST: Hate-filled, revenge-minded black metal that is filthy and utterly nasty.

THOU: Best doom band on the planet. The end. No arguments.

For more on the fest, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/fest/

Gilead Media Fest 2014 prepares to occupy Oshkosh with three days of metallic camaraderie

Gilead FestOshkosh, WI, might not jump out as an epicenter of extreme music. But this weekend, it will host a collection of some of the most eclectic and ambitious bands in the world at Gilead Media Fest, where black metal, doom, drone, hardcore, and so many others forms of volcanic expression will meet.

Gilead Media, one of the best, most consistent labels in metal, is driven by one man, Adam Bartlett. Over the years, he has brought the world music from forward-thinking bands such as Thou, FALSE, Mutilation Rites, Ash Borer, Barghest, Fell Voices, and so many others. And not only have people become emotionally tied to the music he releases, but Bartlett has found himself devoted to those who buy from him, talk to him about music, and record for him. He’s inviting the world back to his hometown so this tight-knit community, that is spread out all over the globe, can break bread, shake hands, and have their minds blown together. Amid his duties as shop manager at Offbeat Press, getting several vinyl releases ready for release, and putting the final touches on this year’s Fest, Bartlett took time to talk about an event that, as far as we’re concerned, is the metal weekend of the year.

I thought at one point after Gilead Fest in 2012 you said it might be a one-off. What changed your mind and made you want to do another one in 2014?

I might have mentioned something about that then, and at the time I was 100 percent serious. I was like, “No more Gilead Media Fests unless Neurosis will play.” Well, obviously Neurosis isn’t going to be playing (this year), or that could be one hell of a surprise I could unleash on everyone. Only it’s not (laughs). But I guess it was about a year after the first one, like in the middle of 2013, when I thought I might want to do another one. So I talked to my wife about it and said, “Hey, I’m not working on any films over the next year, and I want to do another fest because I didn’t have any fun the first time.” I mean, that’s despite the fact that it went well, and everyone seemed to have fun, but I was freaking out the entire time because I sucked at planning it and didn’t relegate any responsibilities to anyone else. I mean, I didn’t get to hang out with anyone the entire weekend. I saw all of these pictures from the weekend, all of these bands hanging out at all of the restaurants at places where I grew up, in my town, which was just fucking surreal, man.

Also, up until Gilead Fest 1, there basically were two Adam Bartletts. One that lived in Oshkosh, WI, and one that ran Gilead Media, and they were two different worlds that never met. In general, there’s not a huge scene except for some awesome dudes who are in bands and play locally, and they would support the label. But it’s not like I’m from Richmond, VA, or San Francisco, places where the labels there have a large local scene that supports the label and really helps it to grow. Not that I didn’t have people supporting me here, but it’s not to that capacity, so that’s why I’ve kept those two parts of my lives very separate. So seeing all of these bands be here, and my two worlds coming together, I felt like I didn’t have a chance to properly witness that. I’ll tell you right now, that’s the only reason Gilead Media Festival 2014 is even happening. There are so many people I didn’t get to see, mail order customers from all over the world, people I have communicated with only online, and I didn’t get to spend any time talking to them. This year I did things totally differently so I can see people and socialize with people and have fun and enjoy myself. That’s all due to the people who are helping me this year and supporting me and all of the volunteers who are helping me run things. If it weren’t for them, I’d be dead. They are preventing me from falling in on myself.

Well, talk about the work you’ve done putting the fest together, from the time you decided to do another festival to now as we’re days away.

I think I announced the fest almost a year to the day before Gilead Fest 2014 was going to happen, so like the middle of July 2013. Prior to that, in April or May, I reached out to a few bands and told them I was thinking about doing this again and asked if they were interested. That was the initial step, getting the primary Gilead Media bands on board. I mean, Thou has to be there, and Ash Borer as well, especially since I had just done that new 12” for them (“Bloodlands”). And we tried for other bands like Fell Voices, who couldn’t make it, and Krallice, who are in kind of a lull right now, and Colin (Martson) is focusing on Gorguts. But I felt it was important to invite them because they’ve been so integral to the growth of the label the past five or six years. Once I got a good core group of bands, many of them who played the first time around, that’s when I started branching out. As people who attended the 2012 fest, who will compare it to this year’s, will see, there are a lot of bands here I haven’t worked with yet. I didn’t just want to have Gilead Media Fest 2012 Part 2. That’s also why I’m not calling it Gilead Fest 2. I’m calling it Gilead Media Fest 2014, it’s at a new venue, there are a lot of different bands, and it’ll be a whole new atmosphere. I still wanted it to be intimate and have the sense of DIY community that I cherish in music. But I want it to be different so the people coming back won’t feel like they’re seeing the same show again.

It’s been a lot easier this year. I learned from a lot of the mistakes I made in 2012. As I said earlier, I tried not to do everything myself, because I am a control freak. My friend Scott is helping me run the fest. My wife Cari is helping coordinate the volunteers, because she actually does volunteer coordinating at the humane society she works at here in town. So it’s a lot more organized this year. The biggest pain in the ass really has been working with all of these touring bands’ schedules because certain bands are coming through town on one day, and they need to play at a certain time on a certain day. But I also want there to be an ebb and flow to the music. I don’t want there to be three straight hours of blast beats and tremolo picking. I want to be able to put a band like Owlfood before a doom band and after a black metal band, and things like that. I want—man, I’m going to sound like a douche here (laughs)—the music to take people on a journey while they’re here. Another thing is I don’t expect every attendee is going to be stoked to see every band, so I want them to be able to have some down time for themselves. Then there was the matter of getting the word out to people and getting people to come to Oshkosh, WI. Oh, and then I decided to put out four records during the final weeks of planning Gilead Media Fest. So the biggest pain in the ass I brought on myself!

Adam Bartlett

Adam Bartlett

Going back to broadening the scope of bands beyond your label, I imagine it also could enlighten a fan of, say, Wolvserpent to some of the Gilead bands that maybe they don’t know much about.

Oh yeah, there’s definitely that, and that’s a big reason I wanted to cast a larger net, so to speak. But I also just fucking love Wolvserpent. They’re such an awesome band. But yeah, having them on a label like Relapse, and I’d argue they appeal to a bit of a different crowd. They’re not totally an extreme metal band, though they have those elements. Even a band like Kowloon Walled City, even though I sold a ton of their stuff through my distro, the people who buy their music probably doesn’t listen to a lot of the stuff I release. Same with Owlfood, and they’re a band I’m just obsessed with. That’s all the type of stuff I was trying to bring into the fold this year. Yes, hopefully they will attract more people, but they’ll also keep the atmosphere fresh and will prevent people from getting worn out by one sound over the course of the weekend.

I know Oshkosh means a ton to you, and that it’s your home, but did you give any thought to holding this year’s event anywhere else?

It’s funny, because yesterday I was just going through some old e-mails exchanges with Cory (von Bohlen) from Halo of Flies based out of Milwaukee, as well as Erik (Stenglein) from Northless who also is from Milwaukee, when I was considering the first Gilead fest and was asking them about venues there. It’s a lot easier to get to. You can fly right into it and not have to drive anywhere afterward. But I have a lot of pride in my hometown. Oshkosh is a small place, and a lot of people talk shit on it from the area, but I love it here. There’s a small but totally compassionate community of artists and musicians here. It’s not a target tour stop for bands coming through here necessarily, but there are so many incredible people here and bands who are just doing it because they love it. It’s the same way with a lot of the artists who are here. So I just sort of wanted to say, “Fuck you, we can do this here.” We’re bringing people here from across the nation and across the world. At the first one, a dude came in from Australia. At this one, we have people coming in from the United Kingdom and other places. We have people coming in who run other record labels—I think half the people from Thrill Jockey are coming—as well as writers and fans of the music. It’s surreal to me that all these people come together in such a small town like this.

It also helps open the eyes of some of the people in this town of some of the other cultures that are out there. A lot of the other downtown businesses, like a place like New Moon Coffee Shop that’s like a block and a half from the venue, they said they sold a week’s worth of veggie chili in like two days last time. And they said the people that came from the fest were some of the nicest people who ever stepped foot in the coffee shop. You know, dudes with black leather jackets and long black hair probably seemed pretty sketchy to people, but multiple businesses I talked to—a record shop, a comics shop, and a few other places—said they were some of the best people who ever shopped there. So I think it’s cool to watch all of these people come together.

You mentioned you want to have a better time this time around and get to talk to more people who mean a lot to you and the label. But what bands are you most excited to witness?

Well, I’ve never seen Wolvserpent before, so I’m excited about that. Owlfood, who I keep going on and on about, I’m excited about seeing them. Thou has told me there’s a good chance they’ll be playing “Heathen” front to back, so I’m fucking so excited for that. Generation of Vipers, if that band sounds anything live like they do on record, I’m going to lose my shit. Their guitar and bass tone is just dirty fucking distortion. Bastard Sapling, obviously. I can’t wait to see those dudes. Sea of Bones. Shit. I could just keep going. And I mean, the bands I’ve done records for lately like Alraune I’m really excited about seeing. Kowloon Walled City, a band that doesn’t really tour and I haven’t had a chance to see. I did watch every single band that played at the first fest, and I’m going to do that again this year. I legitimately book bands that I fucking love, man.

Why did you choose Oshkosh Masonic Center to host Gilead Media Fest 2014?

Well, first of all, it’s beautiful. It was built, I believe, before Wisconsin was a state, and it’s old as shit. You can tell when you’re in there. It’s a stunning place. We’ll be having the fest in the main ballroom, which is on the second floor. It was built before there was amplified music and amplified instruments. Also, there’s a guy I went to high school with and a dude who works at The Exclusive Company, the local record store where I’m renting all the equipment and gear from, who are both part of the Masons. They were able to help me out with everything, and they were my contacts for the venue. It really helped that I was able to text one of them at 10:30 at night to ask questions and they’d get back to me. We’ve known each other for a long time, and there’s a level of respect there. They’re also giving me a lot of freedom to do whatever. For example, the ballroom has 60 windows, so I cut a bunch of wooden boards and I’m lining them with foam to cover the windows and partially soundproof the room. I’m also going to be screen-printing the Gilead logo on these 14-foot-tall curtains and am going to be hanging the curtains. Plus, I’m building a 24-foot wooden stage that will go in front of the traditional ballroom stage, because I don’t want the bands playing on this giant stage. So, within reason, they’re letting me do whatever I need to do to make this the best event it can be.

Gilead Media Fest kicks off Friday at 5 p.m. Come back tomorrow for a full rundown of the lineup, as well as a special pick of the week that might have a little bit to do with all of this. Thanks again to Adam for taking time out of his hellish schedule to talk on a Friday night over the most nightmarish Skype set-up of all time. Screw technology. Open the beers.

For more on Gilead Media, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/

For more on Gilead Media Fest 2014, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/fest/

To buy Gilead releases and merch, go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/