PICK OF THE WEEK: Satan, horror still Ilsa’s deadly killer cards on punishing ‘Corpse Fortress’

The haunting season remains a good while away (I see all you people counting down to Halloween every day!), but that doesn’t mean we can’t indulge in some horrific tales and music that would please the red man downstairs with the pointed tail. Be it terrifying tales or anthems to evil, anytime is a good time to revel in the madness, no matter the season outside the door.

Which brings us to tried-and-true sludge death crushers Ilsa, who have been doing their thing for a decade now and still are burying our faces in the dirt to this day. They’re back with their fifth album “Corpse Fortress,” their first for Relapse, and it’s another dose of filth and outright destruction. The DC-based killers come at you with nine tracks that spill over nearly 48 minutes, and they fit right along with earlier work such as what was packed onto “The Felon’s Claw” and “Tutti Il Colori del Buio.” The band—vocalist Orion, guitarists Tim and Brendan, bassist Sharad, and drummer Joshy—mixes muddy fury with a penchant for grinding, ugly death metal, making for a formula that’s perfect for telling their horrific tales and spreading their bloody madness all over your psyche.

“Hikikomori,” Japanese for being pulled inward or being confined, rips out of the gates with the drums kicking up, sludgy power shaking its hips, and the band settling into mauling, bruising death. Orion’s vocals belt you in the chest, while slurry soloing mesmerizes, savagely dealt chaos bubbles, and the track bleeds into noise. “Nasty, Brutish” is aptly named, as a doomy groove is set free, and ferocity blasts at you, with Orion warning, “Say your prayers, prepare to die!” Soloing goes off, as the track gasps its last breath. “Cosmos Antinomos” rumbles, with monstrous growls from Orion, devastating playing, and a pace that’s heavy, yet grinding your face in the mud. Black melodies are unleashed, while the track chugs ahead and ends in animalistic violence. “Prosector” is wild, as Orion wails bloody hell, sludgy riffs bruise eyes, and doomy lumbering comes your way with no hint of mercy, as this ends heavily as fuck. “Old Maid” is a change of pace, with the punishment going off as KC Oden’s harsh vocals enter the mix, sending shrieks down your spine. The track is catchy but incendiary, with both Orion and Oden’s vocals twisting and strangling.

“Long Lost Friend” starts with a voice running down an epic list of sins before a smudgy swirl lets loose, and the band enters into open assault. The cries for Satan are hungry and bloody, while warm guitars add some light, and the doom hammers later drop and maim. “Ruckenfigur” has a doomy stomp, with vocals piercing your flesh, and grisly playing opening up old and new wounds. A gravelly sung chorus gets the adrenaline flowing, while a brief pull back sets the stage for a thrashy attack and the final blasts for good measure. “Polly Vaughn” surely is the most twisted, deprived version of the old traditional Irish folk song, with these guys hammering at its corpse and warping its original form into a new nightmare. The song never was a happy one, and these guys make sure you feel every ounce of misery. Closer “Drums of the Dark Gods” has guitars droning and sounds boiling, letting its massive cloud drag for about four minutes before the band pulverizes you with power and horror, with Orion wailing, “Torture unrelenting”! The noise fog only spreads, thickening and poising, coating your lungs as you heave for clean air.

Ilsa’s decade-long run covering us in disgusting sludge and horror-filled devastation is well known by those following their bloody path, and “Corpse Fortress” should give their hungry audience exactly what they need. Bloody tales and satanic madness are delivered in full, and their arrival at Relapse should expose them to even more people. This band has delivered consistently vile, punishing metal over their time together, and there’s no reason to think they’ll ruin out of content anytime soon.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

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Iron Reagan, Gatecreeper smash their dueling metallic styles on raucous, punishing split release

There’s no reason to wax poetic today about an album that simply exists to make your hearing that much worse, your psyche that much more fringed. Sometimes I get tired of trying to pin a record to a particular theme or life event, so today we have something that just turns on the demolition switch and watches you get caught in the gears.

The union of political thrashers Iron Reagan and death merchants Gatecreeper is an intriguing idea, one that combines two of the more heralded underground acts of the past few years, both housed under the Relapse umbrella. Their new split release brings eight tracks barreling toward you in a nice, concise package that doesn’t take long to absorb but still leaves you properly damaged. It’s a nice collection not only because the content is strong but also because these two bands really could not be more different in sound and approach. Iron Reagan’s thrash-infested madness has crushed us for the past six years now, with three full-lengths in tow, including last year’s killer “Crossover Ministry.” As for Gatecreeper, they’ve been at their furious approach to death metal only a year shorter than their split mates, and their massive debut record “Sonoran Deprivation” has been out for a couple years now, so we should be due for a longer platter from them. It’s a nice mix, and it keeps it interesting.

Iron Reagan’s helping kicks off with “Warning” that has a spirited open, with Tony Foresta’s vocals practically spat out, with him later, grimly, figuring, “We’re going to die,” as he and the band get on violently about what might happen if people sit on their asses waiting for change. “Paper Shredder” gleefully takes aim at governmental cover-ups, with the band gang shouting “shred!” while the song goes much in the way of a classic Exodus jam. “Take the Fall” is heavy as fuck, with the band trying cut away at the ultimate truth behind the lies we’re told, with Foresta declaring, “Exposure to truth exposes all!” “Proudly Unaccountable” is a blast that speeds by in less than a minute, with the guitars slicing limbs, the vocals crushing, and the drums leaving things in dust. Their last salvo is “Burn for This,” a track that erupts and destroys, with Foresta warning, “No one gets out alive!” It’s thashy and bloody and ends on a razor-sharp burst of soloing.

Gatecreeper get started with “Daybreak (Intro),” an instrumental piece that unloads slowly grinding misery and horrifying intentions, as the guitars bleed and drain into the mouth of “Dead Inside” that immediately gets bones crunching. Grisly growls are unleashed, while the guitars light up and cause a blinding glare, and the back-end thrashes heavily. The track gets uglier, yet more melodic as it stretches on, before things come to a neck-breaking, abrupt finish. “War Has Begun” caps off their offerings, as guitars cut through like a freshly sharpened scythe, and then the pace is ripped apart. The tempo is furious and mean, as gut-wrenching hell explodes, and the leads begins to tangle dangerously. Guttural growls and smothering guitars well up and threaten, while the song hammers for a final time before things are laid to rest.

This split combining Iron Reagan and Gatecreeper is a concise, blistering, fun release that gives you a good taste of what each band brings to the table. The combo of political thrash and punishing death metal might not seem a match, but these bands’ music actually sounds pretty good together, perhaps paving the way for a future tour as mates. If nothing else, we have this package that aims to beat the shit out of you and leave you a heaving heap.

For more on Iron Reagan, go here: https://www.facebook.com/IRONREAGAN

For more on Gatecreeper, go here: https://www.facebook.com/gatecreeper

To buy the album, go here: https://store.relapse.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/RelapseRecords

Knelt Rote unload unsettling emotion, psychological hell on devastation-smashed ‘Alterity’

How much madness is too much? At what point does one’s psyche collapse under the pressure and render itself incapable of moving ahead any further and only can deal with the very end of things? On that same note, how does one accurately portray that frame of crumbling mind in music in a way where you not only hear but feel the utter destruction?

Before even reading a word of the bio information accompanying “Alterity,” the panic-inducing fourth record from grind smashers Knelt Rote, it felt like this was a collection of music that isn’t for every listener, no matter how harsh one’s tastes might be. This is an album that pushes things over the edge, from the sound to the delivery to the unmistakable darkness that greets you at its gates. After poring over the information about this record, it wasn’t a surprise to learn some of the themes are social dissolution, identity (the album title hints at this), mental illness, obsession, and non-physical suicide. The album and its seven songs feel like one’s mind being shredded slowly, as the blood and pain are allowed to drip in long, sticky tributaries that are testaments to one’s breakdown. The band—guitarist/vocalist Gordon Ashworth, bassist/guitarist Lucas Danner, and drummer Elias Bloch—already are a deadly force live, but they’ve taken their agony and punishment to a new level. A person I’m friendly with on social media described this record as being something the world is not really to handle, and I can’t put it any better myself. That’s a warning.

“Lachesis” starts the record, and right away, there are signs of great trouble. Noise envelopes everything and threatens to derail the record before it begins, but then the assault unloads, with the vocals punishing, and some black metal-style melodies arriving. The track is a total fucking massacre, pushing your blood to the forefront, leading toward “Lineage and Dependence,” where guitars well like a town-ending flood. The pace smashes, while the vocal savagery mashes nerves, but then a weird swagger arrives and changes the tone. The pace melts, while uncomfortable whispers pelt, and wild howls smash you to bits. “Rumination” has a purely death metal start, as grisly fury and a barbarian-style assault are unleashed. The riffs clobber, while Ashworth’s growls devastate, and things come to an abrupt, smothering end.

“Genetic Memory” is a bulldozer, as the growls feel like they’re trying to devour the earth, and speed and ugliness spread. Blood and guts are spilled all over, and then it’s into “Othering,” where drums burst, and ferocious power is dealt. The growls roar, while violence erupts across the land, and then it’s into chunky mauling and pure pit fighting. “Salience” has drums pounding away, as slow-driving filth pushes your face into the dirt. Cavernous growls erupt and signal trouble, while chaos bleeds through the wall and splits heads. Monstrous growls send shrapnel flying, while sounds emerge and drown out everything. Closer “Black Triptych” spills venom with a vengeance, as growls swarm like millions of wasp nests, and the soloing goes off. The vocals are packed with a fury, as the murderous power and intense mental trauma finally subside.

Knelt Rote’s fury and abysmal chaos in their heads are on full display with “Alterity,” easily the most painful and punishing of their four records. It’s been six long years since we last heard from the band, and it’s clear in the time since “Trespass” that things have only grown darker and more dangerous. This is a record to approach with caution, especially if you identify with the themes, because you only can walk away a more broken, shattered person.

For more on the band (um, sort of), go here: https://www.facebook.com/Knelt-Rote-442289149130881/

To buy the album (vinyl not available until May), go here: https://shop.nwnprod.com/

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

Israeli maulers Ziggurat’s debut EP ‘Ritual Miasma’ gets further reach with CD/vinyl treatment

The homelands of many of the metal bands that tend to populate this site probably can be broken down to a handful of regions, simply because that’s where most of this stuff tends to come from. But when we get something from somewhere a little unexpected, I’ll be honest, we try to move them up in the queue.

It’s not like Israel is some unheard-of land or anything, but we don’t get a ton of metal from there. Melechesh, Orphaned Land, and Hammercult certainly have done ample damage over the years, but it’s not a place from which we commonly get new music. Another band trying to etch their name in Israeli metal lore is death/black duo Ziggurat, who have been making noise for three years now and finally are getting a little more exposure. Their “Ritual Miasma” debut EP was issued last year on cassette by ultra-reliable, always-interesting Caligari Records, and now Blood Harvest is releasing this five-track, 20-minute slab of power on CD and vinyl. The collection is a charmingly lo-fi affair from these two—guitarist/vocalist Mørk, bassist/guitarist Tohu—who serve notice that they have the goods to stick around a long time in this place if they keep making music as raucous as this.

The title cut starts the record, an intro-style track that dumps noise, ominous tones, and eerie ambiance, leading right into “Summoning the Giant Serpent” that heats up right away but sits more in a tempered pace. Growls bubble as strange melodies make you all dizzy, and then the thing turns more destructive. The vocals gurgle mud, while the song takes on a classic Behemoth feel as it crushes to the very end. “Blind Faith” has melodies entangling and growls scorching. The melodies are humid, as the storm picks up steam and soaks the ground. Black metal-style melodies interject themselves, as the underneath is deceptively melodic and catchy. Riffs rush back in, and the track has a blistering finish.

“דיבוק” is named after a destructive, possessing spirit, so when melodies are caught up in and devoured by the chaos, you shouldn’t be surprised. The playing punches, while the growls scar the flesh, and the leads spiral into oblivion. The track proceeds to drub you, as doom horns sit behind the madness, sounding like they’re delivering Armageddon, and the song then exposes its surprisingly proggy underbelly. The track then is driven into ash, as shrieks penetrate the surface, and the ending hammers bones. Closing instrumental “Death Rites Transcendence” is thrashy right away, with the drums pulverizing, glorious riffs lighting fires, and doomy muck choking off breath. The pace begins to cause hypnosis, while the leads surge, and terrifying noise stretches and drags the cut to its death.

Ziggurat pretty much are newcomers altogether, but their “Ritual Miasma” EP feels like it comes from a band more seasoned than that. There is ample ugliness, bloodshed, and fire-breathing riffs to keep you overstuffed, and it hints at that the band has enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. A full-length record (which is imminent) from the band truly will tell the tale, and we’re pretty excited to hear what they can do with a longer format.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/zigguratband666

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.bloodharvest.se/?product=ziggurat-ritual-miasma-mcd-digi-blood-harvest

For more on the label, go here: http://www.bloodharvest.se/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Insect Ark hit on themes of isolation, loss on dream-bending ‘Marrow Hymns’

Photo by Rennie Elliot

You don’t need words for stories and emotions to wash over you mind. Music doesn’t need a traditional narrative to provide a pathway to discovery or enlightenment or deepening the dark feelings that have rooted into your chest. Music only needs the right ambiance to be transformative or conducive to taking a journey, words to guide you be damned.

Dual-coasted Insect Ark have been wordless from the start. Originally a project helmed by New York’s guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Dana Schechter, the project has grown over the years in sound and scope, and the band that also includes Oregon drummer Ashley Spungin (Taurus, Purple Rhinestone Eagle), who joined in 2015, returns with a new full-length “Marrow Hymns.” This nine-track collection can transport you far away from here if you let their psychedelic-rich, space-embracing music capture your imagination. The band keyed in on isolation, loss, and displacement, as both members experienced tumultuous times leading up to this record, and the result is a stunning collection that can be as cathartic for you as it was for the duo to create. At times, I get so immersed in what’s happening on “Marrow Hymns” that I forget where I am and what I’m doing. The music often feels like it’s soundtracking a dream from my past—perhaps recent, maybe a product of long-discarded childhood slumbers—and brings that imagery ever so viscerally into the forefront.

“Thelema” opens the door, letting you begin your exploration, as they allow noise to build and swirl into “Arp 9,” where Schechter’s pedal steel laps up the waves. The moody atmosphere haunts, letting Spungin’s drumming rattle against your head and a slow, foggy ambiance spread across the room. The track picks up speed, with the tempo sliding, and the track swirling to its end. “In the Nest” unleashes steely slide guitar, with Western darkness settling over everything. The track feels like it’s drinking in the dusk colors, as is slithers into the shadows, moaning and swelling before fading. “Skin Walker” brings a more ominous presence to the record, with a burlier pace flexing and guitars churning blood. Cosmic synth brings chilling winds, while the end crushes your psyche. “Slow Ray” is the second-longest song, clocking in at 7:13, with the bass slinking, the drums punching, and the song reflecting like there are blood streaks lining the sun. Doom shadows drop, as the song slows down, and noise drone penetrates. The tempo later kicks back in, as the guitars quiver and spread over its final moments.

“Sea Harps” lets guitars flutter, as a haunting atmosphere settles in, and the pedal steel stings your senses. The music keeps making your skin burn, your head swell, and you heaving for the wall as the music retreats. “Tarnish” has sounds building and attacking, slow-simmering darkness unfolding, and the music feeling like it’s simmering in a hot night. That slips into the final moments, which feels like a spirit drifting in and out of your mind. “Windless” is the longest song, an 8:38 journey that starts with synth floating and pedal steel guitar sending chills down your spine. The easiness and torment tangle for the next few minutes, with Spungin’s drums rattling and piercing the surface. At about 6 minutes in, the tempo shifts and is pulled forward. The melodies feel like they wander over ghost towns, bringing you along with them to absorb the desolation. The final cut “Daath” is built on mostly noises and electronics, with the darkened vibe reverberating and the bulk feeling like a robotic storm. The sound assault keeps marching toward the unknown, with the track setting off for the depths of oblivion.

If you feel like you’ve entered a dark void while tackling “Marrow Hymns,” you’re not alone. The amount of time I’ve indulged in Insect Ark’s new record at night, while staring at dark blank walls or the sky are only multiplying, and each trip brings new discoveries. Words are nice, sure, but when you transcend the need to have to speak or sing, you’ve entered a ghostly existence, where Insect Ark wait to greet you.

For more on the band, go here: https://insectark.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://profoundlorerecords.merchtable.com

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

Huntsmen’s strong combination of Americana, metal drives dark debut offering ‘American Scrap’

Being an American is a strange proposition right now. There are a lot of people walking around with major gaps in their memories, or they skipped their history classes altogether, and have no grasp on how this nation was formed. But it’s also not really a new problem. We’ve had our heads in the sand for a long time about many issues, and sadly, that doesn’t seem like it’s going to end.

That takes us right into “American Scrap,” the debut record from Chicago’s Huntsmen, and one of the more unique records you’re going to hear from this genre the entire year. I know that sounds funny saying this in February. But there aren’t many bands like this one, and it’s possible this is going to be a record some listeners could reject outright simply for the sound. That would be a mistake. What this band does is takes traditional Americana music and combines it with earth quaking doom metal about as seamlessly as one could hope. This might reek of gimmick (metal’s been known to have a few of those bands…) but it really is natural and organic in presentation. It’s also incredibly well played and sung, and it’s as moving emotionally as it is sonically destructive. Here, songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Chris Kang tackles the conflicting idea of America being the land of opportunity for all, built on the backs of immigrants, as it long has been celebrated, and the current state of nationalism that is making those from other nations feel unwelcome and unsafe. Kang, along with bandmates Kirill Orlov (guitars), Marc Stranger-Najjar (bass), and Ray Knipe (drums) created a conceptual piece that examines the confusion and hurt so many feel here, along with the potential world-toppling outcomes that could follow if we continue down this path.

“Bury Me Deep” is a quick opening track, as deep acoustic strumming and harmonized singing introduces the story and bleeds into “Pyre,” where the song begins rustically before the pace picks up. The singing is strong, as it is throughout the record, as Kang declares, “Tell your god he don’t get my soul yet,” and then the whole thing is blown apart. Shrieks mix in with spirited yelled singing, while a Southern rock-style swagger emerges, smoke rises, and the track ends with vicious shouts and a devastating pace. “Canary King” begins with soulful singing only, as Kang calls, “Give me dust, give me death.” The track then gets grittier, as a burly path is pounded out, and a classic rock groove emerges. Growls land shots, as the tempo pounds away, and the opening lines of the song return, this time with the vocals devastating and bruising. Warm soloing washes over the back end, giving the song a psychedelic shine on its way out. “Interlude Part 1 – Shipwrecked” has sea birds cawing, a cosmic rush, and a droning pattern shoving ahead and into the second half.

“Atlantic City” has gazey chaos emerging at the start, as quiet, solemn singing reminisces about romance at the beach before everything went wrong. “Watch where you’re walking, there’s blood in the sand,” Kang warns, as the track kicks into a proggier gear, the soloing bursts and sprawls, and the track comes to a churning end. “Interlude B – Insurrection” is quite short, with drums rumbling and guitars moaning, and then we’re into “The Barrens,” where guitars rings and riffs scrape. Howled vocals are followed by barked words, and following that is a dose of calm, harmonized singing before the tempo crunches again. The playing over the final minutes is outright burly, as the track heads into a cloud of feedback. “The Last President” caps off the story, with guest singer Aimee Bueno taking the role of the title character, telling of giving her final televised address before euthanizing her family and hanging herself prior to Armageddon arriving. Fuzzy doom carries the thread from there, with the guitar work burning and stoking raging smoke bursts, the playing gushing with emotion, and the tale bleeding away.

Being a fan of Americana music, folk, and, of course, metal, Huntsmen’s concept intrigued me from the outset, but the music contained within “American Scrap” really brought everything home for me as a listener. The lyrical content is heavy and sad, and while you don’t necessarily have to pay attention to the concept to enjoy the record, it really helps add depth to the music. This is a band that’s onto something special, and this record could be the first step in one of metal’s most intriguing stories the next few years.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://store.prostheticrecords.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://prostheticrecords.com/

Deathwhite’s traditionally dark doom casts pall over emotions on dour ‘For a Black Tomorrow’

Depression and darkness are sons of bitches. I kind of know a thing about that, what with the medicine and various therapy sessions I have been through. Luckily, we now live in an age where people (the ones who matter) don’t ostracize those struggling with mental illness and actually understand that some people have a brain that can’t process chemicals the same way as others.

When tackling “For a Black Tomorrow,” the debut record from Deathwhite, it’s hard not to feel your very worst when hearing these songs. The band, whose members remain shrouded in mystery and claim their home ground as my hometown of Pittsburgh (even if I, nor anyone I know in the scene have ever heard of them, and I don’t mean that critically) bring about memories of classic Paradise Lost and Katatonia, as well as 40 Watt Sunn and, of course, Warning, and battling through these songs means being OK with confronting that which hurts you inside. This could help you come to grips and realize this music hits a little too close to home. The album is being released in wider number by Season of Mist, though the music has been available independently since last March.

“The Grace of the Dark” opens the record with a driving riff and the line, “Isolation is bearing down on me,” as the gothy doom unfurls its wings. The singing is deep and pained, especially when revealing words such as, “Into the dark, I will be freed,” as the torment drains away. “Contrition” chugs as strong leads take over and the singing soars. The chorus drives the song, as the music takes on an emotional, jagged edge, while the song thrashes away. “Poisoned” begins with acoustics before the main riff kicks in, and then things return to rustic over the chorus. The singing soaks in gothic waters while the chorus brings crunch, the guitars swell, and the song dissolves in delicacy. “Just Remember” is crunchy as hell, as the words, “Your vanity will only serve to haunt you,” drives in its dagger. The track is moody and dark, the leads burn up, and the song ends in gloomy fog.

“Eden” has a clean start, as grim singing and mid-tempo balladry is launched. Strong soloing belts out for the sky, and the song bleeds away and sets the stage for “Dreaming the Inverse.” The beginning of the song is spindly and hypnotic, with the call of, “Keep calling your name, looking for purpose,” feels pointed. The guitars crush and sink into deep waters, leaving the mood feeling depressed and defeated. “Death and the Master” is the longest song, clocking in at 6:26 and starting clean and mesmerizing. The singing is more forceful here, as the gasp of, “Falling forever without fail,” feels cold. The soloing is spacious and later kind of proggy, while the tempo is torn apart later with the final shot of, “Time is yours to burn!” “Prison of Thought” is swarming and punchy, as power and acoustics entangle, and the focus turns to being trapped in one’s thoughts. “This is my prison, it’s where I will remain,” pays off that essence, and after a dose of quiet, the playing rages into a storm as the song comes to an end. The title cut ends the record with guitars churning and deep vocals, with the lure of, “Breathe in the dark.” The chorus is powerful, as the song lands some final shots, finally fading into the thick black night.

Deathwhite’s first record pushes and hurts and bleeds, and if you’re OK with displaying your vulnerability, “For a Black Tomorrow” could be the ideal passenger for your travels. This is heavy both mentally and physically, and its gothic undertones only help to elevate the blackness. This band revels in your and their doom, and the music they make should help you feel better about embracing your own darkness and sadness.

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

To buy the album (North America), go here: https://shopusa.season-of-mist.com/

Or here (International): https://shop.season-of-mist.com/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.season-of-mist.com/