Two-headed black metal beast Leucosis battle, display turmoil on bloody third record ‘Liminal’

Black metal exists amid chaos. Nothing is certain or permanent. Life is only worth extinguishing. Artistic unions last as long as they can before they are expunged. It’s not supposed to be an easy way of life for a musician, and the expressions are intended to be dark and unforgiving, strange spirals into which one cannot just expect to be released.

If any modern band knows that cycle of destruction better than Leucosis, I’d like to know who it is. They have revolved, evolved, and devolved over the past eight years, putting out some of the most enthralling black metal in the U.S. and, when the spiritual forces have aligned, led to live shows that crush souls. But it’s not been an existence of permanence. Players have come and gone. The process of just being a band has been a daunting challenge. And their idea of what Leucosis even is has been tested on numerous occasions. But persevere they have, and they return with their cataclysmic third full-length “Liminal” that is here to burn your soul beyond recognition. The two players behind this project—vocalist/guitarist Jeff Lynn (formerly of Gaze) and drummer Jacob—have committed their own internal forces to this project, and this five-track album is a black metal expression that is full of emotion and hell, as the songs do their best to blacken your mind.

The 10-minute “Bereft” opens the record with a burst of storming black metal, very much like the incredible rain deluge outside my window right now. The vocals burn while the riffs spear, as guitars spiral out from there, and chaos chars bodies. The drums rattle before the song comes to a halt, dragging along in a noise cloud. A serene stretch leads to the intensity building back up again, the track chugging all over, and a thrashy assault crushes walls before subsiding in warmth. The first of two untitled instrumental tracks follows, as surfy notes sway, the music causes your brain to freeze, and a strange trickle of coldness envelopes your body.

“Saturnial” opens abruptly and begins driving viciously. The melodies burst, while the growls are engulfed in hellish madness, and a hurricane force rips everything apart. The pace pelts your face with cinders, while the guitars gush with emotion, and the monstrous growls that erupt and pummeling playing that accompanies bring everything to a bruising finish. The second untitled instrumental is soaked in mournful horns and a driving rain, going right into the heart of 8:45 “Liminal.” A doomy, foggy presence greets you, while the music feels somber, and a voice speaks in the distance, as if from another dimension. The vocals tear into the flesh, as the pace changes back and forth from calm to volcanic. Winds blow through like a deep winter storm, and on the other side, black metal chaos spills blood, bringing the song to a ferocious end.

Leucosis have not had a smooth path to where they are now, but they forged ahead and created this devastating monster “Liminal.” There’s a shitload of black metal out there, and it’s always hard to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not. Leucosis are the real shit, and this record should cement them as USBM warriors for years to come.

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Paradise Lost further carve up their sound, delve back to dark roots on death-doused ‘Medusa’

Paradise Lost have spent the past three decades helping to redefine doom metal and become one of the most important forces in all underground music. The band has created some timeless classics (as well as a few that weren’t quite in that league) along the way, and here they are, still standing and making music that’s as vital as ever.

The band has returned with their 14th album “Medusa,” and what we find is a group that has rediscovered its fire and seemingly turned back to the clock to their “Lost Paradise” and “Gothic” days. They returned the death metal elements to their music fully with 2015’s “The Plague Within,” but they’ve toughened up their sound even more, while never losing track of their gothic tendencies. It’s no secret Greg Mackintosh’s work in Vallenfyre helped him add more virulent strains to what he does with this band, but vocalist Nick Holmes bringing back his hellacious growl blackened their sound even more. Let’s not forget he’s also singing with Bloodbath, a gig that surely had a major effect on him. Rounded out by guitarist Aaron Aedy, bassist Stephen Edmondson, and new drummer Waltteri Vayryen (also of Vallenfyre), the band created a tremendous late-career record that’s as strong as anything they’re released in the last decade.

This eight-track, 42-minute mauler opens with “Fearless Sky,” as organs ring, mournful guitars spill, and Holmes’ grisly growls push into the picture. The cut has a funereal pace, with leads heating up, Holmes singing out, “Reach for the symbol of your wound,” and smothering soloing leading to the cut’s devastating finish. “Gods of Ancient” has a muddy start before the band hits a doom groove, and the leads cut into the meat. The growls churn, guitars leave brush burns, and the song comes to a crushing, shimmering end. “From the Gallows” trudges through mud, as the guitars leave a slimy glaze, and the gloom is laid on thick. The soloing from Mackintosh melts flesh, while Holmes growls rumble, and a pummeling lament rules all. “The Longest Winter” starts with birds crying, and then guitars charge in with frosty keys. Holmes unleashes shadowy singing, and the chorus benefits greatly from his expression, while growls follow as the song darkens. The soaring chorus keeps returning for more blood, as the cut keeps your heart pumping.

The title track has buzzing keys and Holmes delivering soulful clean singing. Again, the band delves into goth-style melodies, which they do so well, and the tempo starts and stops, pulling you along for the ride. “This life, the last,” Holmes calls, while the emotional bloodletting gets thicker, and feedback blows away. “No Passage for the Dead” has grinding growls, sludgy riffs, and growls mixing with singing over the chorus. The track is both destructive and spacious, as the guitars lead your mind into space. “Blood and Chaos” has a folk-flavored approach, though electrified as all hell. Holmes digs deeper into his singing voice, feeling like his mouth is dropping words dripped in black blood, and the track lands some heavy bruising before it finally brings mercy. “Until the Grave” starts solemnly before ugliness rears its head, and the growls chew away at flesh. “The light follows day, say your prayers,” Holmes urges, while star-dusted keys deliver shadowy mystery, and the track has a decimating finish dressed in death.

Still standing 30 years later, Paradise Lost have no interest in resting on their reputation and cashing in simply because of who they are. “Medusa” shows a hungry, channeled, ferocious band that still has the goods to deliver doom mastery. This band helped create the crooked path of doom, and they’re not done carving that devastating roadway.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Sannhet pour emotional tumult, devastating self-reflection into ‘So Numb’

Photo by Jimmy Hubbard

It’s strange, as you grow into an adult, how much of your life is shaped by your childhood. I’ve come to learn that personally in 1.5 years of therapy, and you can see that play as people reach high school and college age. Our upbringings have a lot to do with who we are and what we become, and there’s not much we can do to change that foundation.

The cover of Sannhet’s new record “So Numb,” their third, depicts a mother shielding a child’s eyes, but as they point out, the scene isn’t necessarily a wholesome, loving one. It’s meant to show a child being hidden from dangers and bad things in life, something we all must experience as we grow, thus potentially resulting in a young person who cannot effectively deal with stress, anxiety, and failures. Because of this thinking, the band—guitarist John Refano, bassist AJ Annunziata, and drummer Christopher Todd—decided to take these nine songs and use them to face the challenges of existence head on, without blinders and masked eyes, and tackle whatever adversity is in front of them. That burst of energies and catapulting emotions come across strong and clear on this collection, easily their best record so far, and the fact they can get across these things in instrumental form is stunning. It’s like a soundtrack for one’s developing mind.

“Indigo Illusion” starts the record with the tempo driving and goth-friendly guitars spilling open. The melodies create a fog dream, while the band hits a post-punk groove, the leads soar and then chill, and everything cascades to the ground. The guitars in “Sapphire” trickle generously, creating a deathrock mood, and then the music begins to burn. Gazey waves break, as an emotional caterwaul bursts and infuses everything with color. The guitars sear through the calm, before cutting abruptly at the song’s end. The title track is murky and punchy, settling into a quiet bed of sound and giving off a mystical vibe. A sweltering melody line erupts out of that, some of the most memorable guitar phrasing on the record, and from there, the energy surges all the way to the finish. “Fernbeds” is the longest track, a 7:29 cut that starts with echoing bass that veers into cold shadows. The drums crash, and the song takes on the feel of a cold, rainy Autumn day, with guitars coming out of that like a rare sunbeam through the downpour. Later, the song quivers, while melodies slice through, and clouds rush as the music fades.

“Salts” bathes in smeary guitars, as the bass bulges, and a post-punk-style assault begins. The drum beats stutter while the guitars navigate cold, rapid waters that continue until they reach the shore. “Way Out” runs headlong into meaty basslines and a chugging pace. Air gushes into the picture, as the clean guitars add additional breezes. Keys blend in as the song darkens, and one final burst works to negate any brightness. “Secondary Arrows” soaks in a noise haze, while keys drip and the bottom drops. A synth mist wets your face, while the pace plods along, and the music sizzles out. “Sleep Well” is a disruptive force on the front end, with the volume increasing, strong riffs flexing their muscles, and a Rush-like feel to the ambiance. The bass lands blows while the guitars spirals, bringing the song to a pit of sludge. Closer “Wind Up” starts with calming chimes and thick sounds floating in air, as cosmic winds arrive to bring an otherworldly feel. Keys bleed as the music blends into time, leaving the record on a somber note.

Sannhet’s indescribable sound keeps developing, as do their compositional chops, which are at their peak on “So Numb.” The band hits upon so many mental and physical lows and highs on this record, that absorbing this in album form, one song after another, is the best way to take the entire psychological inventory packed into this collection. It’s a high point for a band that keeps topping themselves with each new release.

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Lisa Cuthbert’s ‘Hextapes’ gets just vinyl treatment, further exposing her mesmerizing ways

Heavy isn’t necessarily about the gravity or weight of sound. Sure, most of what’s described that way involves tons of distortion and rhythm sections that feel like cavern walls falling on you. But there are other ways to assign the descriptor “heavy,” and emotional impact certainly is an element that qualifies.

Lisa Cuthbert is proof of this. Here on “Hextapes,” she weaves haunting melodies, her ghostly voice, and heart-pounding drama to prove that over these eight songs, she sure as hell is heavy. The music was released digitally last spring, but in accordance with her upcoming live shows, underground metal powerhouse Iron Bonehead is releasing a vinyl version, which is very much fitting for these great pieces. She has played with heavy hitters including Sisters of Mercy, Draconian, Ulver, Wovenhand, and more, and her solo work is In the same vein as Chelsea Wolfe, Kate Bush, Myrkur, and Anna Von Hausswolf. Cuthbert gets inside your veins and blackens you. The songs are lovely, chilling, and bloody emotional, and every trip with it is something that you’ll never forget.

“Killing Fields” starts with noise simmering and her mesmerizing singing, bringing some PJ Harvey-style allure. The song hovers overhead and threatens soaking rain before fading away. “The Host Wants a Parasite” has Cuthbert’s vocals shrouded in a quivering cloud of sound, while the dark, shadowy pace stretches like a ghoul, and the comparisons to Wolfe come rushing to the forefront. The final moments feel like being enveloped in dark, with Cuthbert’s voice stinging. “Under the Stars” has steely guitars and a moody ambiance, as the music takes on a mournful, lonely feel. The fire keeps burning gently throughout its run before it bows to the night. “Eye” has enchanting, layered chorals, feeling like an old-time dream viewed in black and white. Synth creates a haze, and Cuthbert achieves a sort of gothic soul vibe, with her singing acting as the song’s biggest muscle.

“Will” has pianos splattering and a trance-inducing path, as everything feels like it’s making its way down a hidden, funereal stream off to the land of the dead. “Effigy” is the longest track, clocking in at 7:44, and it starts with winds whipping, guitars creaking and sending shivers, and the pace gently flowing. Her quiet voice soothes and guides you into a psychedelic ambiance, which keeps your imagination on high as it works its way into the stars. “Pillar” has a jolt of nighttime coldness, like you’re rambling in a car on a cold night with the windows open. The singing grips, while the music washes over your brain as you drift off into dreamland. Closer “Hands Clean” has pianos, her singing, and a rush of sounds heading into a psyche cloud. “You’ve done your part,” Cuthbert insists, as the music swells, strings strike, and everything disintegrates back into the earth.

Lisa Cuthbert’s name should spread to more people now, and deservedly so. If you were late on discovering “Hextapes,” then now’s the perfect time to introduce yourself to her darkly adventurous world. This vinyl edition is the ideal way to experience Cuthbert’s music, and these eight songs will keep you captivated long into the winter months.

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Der Weg Einer Freiheit push their black metal to new extremes on existence-destroying ‘Finisterre’

Photo by Sophia Weißberg

In order for styles of music to survive, it’s going to take interesting new bursts of creation and evolution that reach other corners. Otherwise, we’re going to keep hearing the same noise and ideas over and over again until it dies an overdue death. While some people have cried about change, others have taken up the quest and helped metal get more captivating and surprising.

German black metal quartet Der Weg Einer Freiheit have been one of those groups that have taken the basics of their sound and pushed and pulled its borders elsewhere. Now, on their fourth record “Finisterre,” the band continues their association with powerhouse Season of Mist, and they hold up their end by delivering five tracks of intelligent, hybrid black metal that both crushes and challenges at the same time. The band—vocalist/guitarist Nikita Kamprad, guitarist Sascha Rissling, bassist Nico Ziska, drummer Tobias Schuler—has been active since 2009, and in that time, they have released four powerful platters of their forward-thinking, progressive-twisted black metal that is awe inspiring witnessed just coming from a mere set of headphones. To be in their presence as they mow down whoever’s in front of them must be an experience that leaves bodily welts considering the amount of damage their recorded output kicks out.

“Aufbruch” begins the record with someone speaking in German over cold guitars that chill to the bone. Suddenly out of that, the storm begins and brings astonishing power. Chant singing drips over the monstrous growls when the chorus arrives, and the drumming is just punishing as it ruptures and mauls. Later, clean calling enters, as the song gets proggy, but then things turn back toward a strain of black metal that will sound perfect once fall arrives. The track ramps up again, leading toward its chaotic finish. “Ein letzter Tanz” is a beast at 13:48, with the first moments trickling blood before guitars begin agitation, and full ignition is achieved about three minutes in. Grisly growls and melodic drama push the agenda, while a period of vicious storming blackens the scenery and brings fear. The track turns on a dime for a moment, getting downright breezy, but then it’s back to the fighting pits as gazey atmosphere cascades over the darkness, the vocals wrench, and the track disappears into ash.

“Skepsis Part I” ignites from the start, as tricky melodies make their presence known, and then the whole dam bursts. The track is trudgy and smothering for a while before some elegant playing spills in and adds more texture to this rousing instrumental. The conjoined “Skepsis Part II” is animalistic right as it begins, as speed and guttural savagery combine and create a nightmare void. The pace is relentless, as the track pelts with acid, the cries are raw and pained, and the final moments bash with ruthless aggression. The closing title track runs 11:13 and immediately charges. The track has a prog-fueled base, as vicious cries mount, and the tempo hurls anvils. Kamprad’s growls are monstrous here, while the band hits with sudden impact, creating gut-wrenching power. Melody slips in, bringing brief serenity, and lush strings stretch over the fury. The song later cracks and begins hammering again, as the band slowly pushes their way to the end with a slowly fading assault that fades just as strings pick back up and bring the song to a morose conclusion.

Der Weg Einer Freiheit’s power is astonishing, so much so that Kreator’s Mille Petrozza has sung their praises, and that is paid off in spades on “Finisterre.” These five tracks are repeated piledrivers, crunching your spinal column mercilessly into the ground as they waylay you with their intensity. This is the type of stuff that keeps black metal morphing and developing, promising that with bands such as this, the style won’t always sound the same but will never die.

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Ruby the Hatchet explode with psychedelic cosmic powers on molten ‘Planetary Space Child’

Photo by Mike Petzinger

We cover pure metal, in all its forms, just about every day on this site. So, the opportunities we get to branch a little beyond that (and we’re going to do it a couple times this week) always are worthwhile. There’s a nice bit of music out there that, while not necessarily 100 percent metal in formula can appeal to this audience as well as many others.

I was intrigued with Philly-based Ruby the Hatchet pretty much from the first time I was introduced to them. Their doomy rock and psychedelic fire definitely fit in with what we do here, but it can reach out and pull in plenty of other types of music fans. That was proved when the band had road stints with artists as varied as Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats and Black Mountain, two bands that stand apart sonically but also have a lot in common. Just like Ruby and the Hatchet. The band ups its game significantly on their new record “Planetary Space Child,” the follow-up to 2015’s rock-solid “Valley of the Snake” and an album that finds them soaring musically and mentally into the cosmos. You can turn on this record late at night—strong libations encouraged but not necessary—and take an amazing journey in your mind along with the music. The band—vocalist Jillian Taylor, guitarist Johnny Scarps, bassist Lake Muir, organist Sean Hur, and drummer Owen Stewart—sounds stronger than ever on this collection, and what they achieve in their powerful live shows, they transfer to this album.

The title track gets the record going, as weird cosmic sounds bleed in, and the first three minutes are dedicated to building the mood. Taylor finally begins her part of the tale, pointing, “Your mind has a weakness,” as she really begins to take off. The track soars, the music turns into a psyche jam out, and the whole thing comes to a stomping end. “Killer” adds menace, as the riffs and devious organ form to make something that would make Deep Purple proud. “Voices tell me where to go,” Taylor wails, finally admitting, “I’m a killer,” amid eeriness and crunch. “Pagan Ritual” starts with mesmerizing playing that topples the mind, while the song finally kick starts and gets the juices flowing. The band changes pace on you a few times, keeping things interesting, while the guitars are trippy and fiery over an extended section of playing. Out of that, the music keeps bubbling and eventually flows over the rim.

“The Feel” is the oddball of the bunch, as haunting organs and steamy guitars join up, and once Taylor unloads, the whole thing takes on a Fleetwood Mac vibe. The guitars cut through, as the band goes on another jam session, and the final moments add fuel to the blinding fire. “Symphony of the Night” is the longest track at 7:09, and it has a clean, almost gentle start. Powerful singing is layered over top, as the organ infects, and the band heads toward a doomy, mind-altering sound cave. The guitars begin to gain steam, as a massive solo rips out of that, and Taylor’s powerful pipes add extra bits of power as the song reaches its finish. “Gemini” feels like a road burner, one you’d blast in the midday sun while heading off to nowhere down a desolate highway. The organs drive, as psychedelic smoke rises, and Taylor adds the exclamation point, wailing, “They’re telling me it’s time to die!” Closer “Lightning Comes Again” is a seven-minute ballad that pours steam and intensity. The track emerges from the fog, as the song builds its intensity slowly until its eventual bursting point. “You’re living with the dead,” Taylor prods, as guitars well up and apply pressure, the vocals continue to swelter, and the entire band brings the song to a fire-breathing crescendo.

Ruby the Hatchet slowly have been making their name and turning heads, and “Planetary Space Child” should cause a ton of neck jerks in their direction. This is a thunderous, psyche-drenched adventure from front to back, and each song stands on its own but also adds to solidifying the record as a whole. Everything about this music works on every level, and it’s the finest achievement in this band’s young career.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Sons of Crom go on another adventure with rousing opus ‘The Black Tower’

The presence of great adventures is something that has made heavy metal a great form of music for decades. Consider bands such as Iron Maiden, Helloween, Mercyful Fate, Bathory, and those who like to weave tales and revisit history, and you have some of the genre’s best storytellers ever. Metal doesn’t have quite as many of these bands at the forefront now, but they’re out there.

One such band is Sons of Crom, the Finnish duo that’s near the beginning of its run but that already has created some compelling, adventure-soaked metal. They’re back with their excellent second record “The Black Tower,” their first for the two-headed beasts of Bindrune Recordings and Nordvis Produktion, where they could not possibly be more at home. Vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Janne Posti and drummer/vocalist Iiro Sarkki follow up their tremendous debut effort “Riddle of Steel” with an eight-track record that’s compelling and gripping right from the start. The band pushes past the narrative of “Steel” to this tale, where our protagonist is on a quest to find truth beyond the mortal realm, a place of no time, space, life, or death. It’s a mysterious, enthralling journey, and every moment drips with metallic wonder splashed with bits of classic, black, death, and folk styles of metal.

“Steps of Doom” starts the record in ominous fashion, as the music sounds like it’s the opening theme for a film about great, time-altering battles and history-honored warriors fighting for everything they hold dear. Thick synth and stirring strings pulsate, as deep, Viking-style singing blend into “In Fire Reborn,” a rousing song that has a glorious pace and a fantastic flow. We start with Enslaved-style verses, with shrieked vocals and jarring melodies, and then it’s on to the soaring chorus. They follow that path, later delivering one of the most rousing sections of singing on the entire record, a passage that will make your blood surge. Folk-style strings arrive and add texture, and a calm path with echoing chants conjure spirits. Later, guitars intermingle and create blinding lights, and the track ends on a gigantic, mountain-toppling note. “Fall of Pandemonium” mixes strings and classic-style guitar riffs, feeling like the ghost of every era of metal combining. Strong singing drives the pace, while fiery soloing, storming melodies, and a death-defying tempo bring the song to an end. “Legacy” calms things a bit, as acoustic guitars march in, and lush strings sweep over everything. Rousing folkish singing emerges, making the heart race, and the urging of, “Dark mother, let your banners fly,” feels both liberating and galvanizing.

“Black Wings Up High” has vocals bellowing and the band pounding through, with a heavy prog edge to the whole thing. The chorus is one that’ll etch itself in your brain and play over and over after you’ve finished listening, while a voice speaks asking its followers to spread wisdom before the track comes to a gushing finish. “Summoning the Starborn” has majestic synth blowing in at the start, before the song gets punchy and direct. “Time, we meet again,” is called over a base built with a tempered pace, deep crooning, and some tremendous soloing that should fan classic fires. Later, keys glaze again before the track is gutted, grim growls lay waste, and the song ends in the eye of a storm. “Viimeinen Laki” has a melodic burst before the singing goes cold, only to be met with terrifying howls. Those grim growls echo in the wind, while quiet acoustics later mix into the pattern before the song is engulfed in flames again. The leads cut through, while the soloing burns, leaving a tall plume of smoke in the dark night, and then its essence is sucked into space for good. Closer “Rebirth of the Sun” is a rustic instrumental, a calming curtain dropper on our tale complete with swollen strings, heartfelt melodies, and a thunderstorm arriving and soaking the ground.

Sons of Crom have a firm grasp of what made metal such a fun escape in the first place, and “The Black Tower” is another chapter into the band’s sojourn. With two great records under their belt and a solid footing in storytelling and fantastical image conjuration, these guys can help be that thing that carries you away from what ails you and transports you elsewhere. This band is both heavy and creative, and their commitment to soaring epics should carve them a permanent place in metal lore.

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