PICK OF THE WEEK: Alda create their masterpiece, with rousing folk, black metal on ‘Passage’

AldaPeople don’t really go around calling metal albums beautiful or breathtaking because, for some, that takes the piss out of it. Isn’t the idea to be ugly, violent, chaotic, and devoid of human compassion? We all know that, really, it is not always the case, and even when the heathens out there decry our desire to find metal that moves our souls, that doesn’t really stop us.

When tackling “Passage,” the wrenching new record by Alda, every cell in my body beams with energy. This third record by the Tacoma, Wash., based band is their most stunning achievement in a deep well of them. The band might not be known around the world quite yet, but they’ve developed a deep underground following on the strength of their first two opuses—their 2009 self-titled debut and 2011’s mystifying “:Tahoma:,” which ended up on a surprising number of year-end lists that year. But “Passage” is on another level still. It is lush and earth-rich quite often during these five tracks, but it also matches the intensity of the summer’s strongest lighting strikes, packing in melodic, outright emotional black metal into this collection. It’s a record that could grab your heart in an instant and take you along with them on whatever adventure they have in store.

Alda coverThis band is a four-headed beast with Michael Korchonnoff on drums and vocals; Stephanie Knittle on bass, cello, and backing vocals; and Timothy Brown and Jace Bruton on guitars. As time has gone on, and this band has grown, the music has gotten richer and more involved. There’s a hugeness in concept behind what they do, but what’s refreshing about “Passage” is the music maintains a raw feel. It’s not polished or overdone. You feel like you’re in the same room with the band, taking them in as they organically draw deep inside of them and blast out in front of you their every expression. It’s a fantastic listen you should make time to hear and absorb in full all alone, with nothing else to distract you.

The record opens with “The Clearcut,” one of my favorite songs of the entire year so far (it’s up there with FALSE’s “The Deluge”) and the best possible way to open this journey. The 14-minute track starts with clean guitars awakening and Korchonnoff (later joined in harmony by Knittle) leading the way, starting with, “Though our hearts will ring hollow in the silence of the clearcut,” as the tranquil passage teases bursts and eventually pays that off. When the power arrives, it’s with a full, bursting heart, as the singing erodes into wild growls and glorious cascading arrives that’s both heavy and incredibly emotional. The song turns back toward clean again, as Korchonnoff delivers some folk-like calls that’ll arrest you, and then it’s back into the eye of the storm, cutting through all of that chaos until the song finally ends in a bed of quiet strains. Absolutely amazing song. The title track follows, and it does a great job maintaining the intensity. Thunder calls as the band emerges from that and takes time to fully unfurl what they have. In fact, the first half of the song is purely instrumental, and riveting at that, as cymbals are bashed, guitars spill lava, and passion overflows before the first word is even uttered. The back end of the song is packed with massive leads, drum work that feels like Korchonnoff is going for broke, and eventually everything fading from where it came.

“Weathering” follows, with rustic acoustics and earnest vocals, with Korchonnoff noting, “We are parched land aching for a drink.” Wordless harmonizing adds more heart and passion to the song before the power emerges, and the band takes you on a slow-driving path. The vocals are gruff, as the melodies build around it, whipping you on a riveting journey that halts suddenly, as a clip from the movie “Jeremiah Johnson” plays, with the hammer-home line being, “Can’t cheat the mountain, pilgrim.” Acoustics come in from there, but as the track goes, it gets heavier and more spacious, with dual guitars exploding and the piece coming to a fiery end. “The Crooked Trail” is a lovely, serene instrumental track (aside from the wordless harmonies) that feels like it could be played around campfire or on a back porch in the driving rain. It’s a really nice cut that sets the stage for the finale “Animis.” The track starts with noises that could be dogs barking in the distance or might just be string strikes, and then the song explodes with life, pushing forward and destroying the path behind it. As most of the songs on this record are wont to do, we trade back and forth from calm to punishing, and later on, Korchonnoff’s rough growls turn to wild wails, like he’s standing in the middle of the wilderness begging for another voice to find him. The song rages with fire and epic grandeur, a final blast to remind you it is possible to feel abundantly alive listening to music—even black metal—closing the thing with the calm of chirping crickets and what sure is to be the pounding of your heart.

Alda have made a gigantic impact with “Passage,” a mid-way point contender for album of the year considerations and easily the best thing in their already impressive catalog. From the first time I heard this thing, I was captured. Every moment of this album is real, personal, human, of the Earth, all of those seemingly conflicting things combined. “Passage” is an album that may have made its mark in 2015, but its majesty and grace will live for calendar years well into the future. It’s that good.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alda/116289091792839

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

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

blackQueen’s strange mixture of death, doom, horror colors huge-sounding ‘The Directress’

BlackqueenSome bands, no matter how underground or ugly their sound, were just meant for bigger stages. That doesn’t necessarily mean headlining arenas or summer sheds but just having more room to stretch out and have your ideas flex out like they should.

San Francisco’s blackQueen are long overdue for that push upward, and perhaps the music they put forth on their second full-length effort “The Directress” could be what get them there. The band long has been high on ambition, stretching their self-dubbed witch metal on live stages and onto short films (if you were at the first Housecore Horror Film Festival, you got a chance to see their film) and expanding their bizarre mix of death and black metal, doom, thrash, and spacey experimental style. There is a ton going on with this band, and with their penchant for draping their horrors over a screen, they could benefit from burning down a larger room where their majesty could be unrolled in full.

Blackqueen coverBlackQueen originally was formed in 1998 by Pete Jay (original Assück bassist) and put out their “Witch Metal” demo and an EP before disappearing back into the night. The band re-emerged with a new lineup earlier this decade with Jay (known as bZZrd in this band and on guitar and vocals) along with bassist Ursula Stuart, drummer Alex Bytnar (Galdr, Wounded Giant), and keyboard/synth/samples master Brandon Fitzsimons on board (not to mention a collective-style gathering of players sprinkled over the East and West coasts). The band holed up with the esteemed Billy Anderson to record this seven-track beast, and along the way they amassed guests including Uta Plotkin (formerly of Witch Mountain), Paul Pavlovich (Assück), Joy Von Spain (Eye of Nix), and Wrest (Leviathan) to add their pipes to this horrific display that’s as fun to hear play out as it is damaging for your central nervous system.

“The Olde Religion” begins the record in a doomy haze, with riffs sprawling and groans spilling out. This slides into mashing chaos, with wails and growls emanating, but a strange, detached clean voice from bZZrd that comes and goes on this thing. Guitar soloing starts to buckle, as choral waves crash, the sing/growl struggle continues, and the back end thrashes the hell out of you. “Silentium” begins in a strange bed of noise before it tears apart and begins the death metal assault. The growls are deep and bruising, while the shrieks tear at your senses, and the speed they unleash at the end of the song would make every would-be thrash start-up quit, for they cannot match this force. “The Names of Snakes” begins with a clip from the film “Suspiria” (it’s one of many film quotes worked into the record), as heavy doom thunders and the chugging pace hits full tilt. Vicious shrieks drive the plot, though some chant-like singing arrives and adds a chill, and the band again dabbles in blinding speed that could cause a few elbows to greet chins live. Murky synth later pours down, as the vocals are spat out, and the last moments are utterly relentless. “3rd Key” lets keys pulsate, as heavy breathing and cries are enough to make your skin crawl. The song has its muddy moments, and don’t be surprised to find your nerves frayed at the end of this one as it absolutely thumps you.

“Forever Daggers” is the strangest of the bunch, which is saying something, as it smashes into existence with a thick key glaze behind it. Goth-style singing arises on the choruses after gruffer verses, and there are parts of the song that strike me as vampiric. It took me a little while to get into this one, but after a few tries I’m under the spell. “Beneath the Barrow” is slow-driving and melody filled, with verses that border on hypnotic and feel dressed by detached levels of personal horror. The song swirls and swelters, goes clean and gentle for a spell, spins into mesmerizing territory, and then completely ignites in its final moments, ending things with operatic drama and total fire. The closing 9:31 title track feels like fall winds are in the air, with death dropping everywhere and piano notes splattering. The singing is dreary, sometimes alternating with furious growls, while the tempo never remains stagnant, moving from furious thrash to stunning keys washing everywhere to a ghoulish section where air wooshes and old souls wail. The track kicks back in with a couple of minutes left, letting the band pack a few final daggers into their opponents, who have been caught off guard and robbed of their breath.

Perhaps blackQueen are too heavy, bizarre, and spellbinding ever to graduate to a larger stage, but that’s on a populace never daring enough to experience danger. I can only imagine what this band could do in a nice-sized, darkened theater, the power of the songs from “The Directress” in hand, and their screens popping to life with sensational, spooky imagery. We can dream big, can’t we? Until then, their sound and their visions will have to be gigantic inside your own mind, as you’re haunted again and again by their witchcraft.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://witchmetal.bandcamp.com/

Infera Bruo infuse creativity into their cosmic black metal on excellent ‘In Conjuration’

Infera BruoBrutality and unquestioned evil intent are ingredients so many bands insist on putting into their black metal. They’re like the yeast and hops. Creativity, on the other hand, doesn’t seem nearly as vital to many artists, which is probably why so many of them fall by the wayside, incapable of making a deeper impact beyond being totally cult, man.

Boston’s Infera Bruo, while heavy and brutal and evil-sounding enough in their own right, have other interests beyond just waffling you with sound. They were impressive already on their 2013 debut “Desolate Unknown,” an album we trumpeted (with real brass instruments!) on this site, and now that their second album “In Conjuration” has arrived, we get to hear a bigger, more fully realized version of the band. This quartet’s version of black metal has many shades—some of them not necessarily dark—and the work they put into every aspect of this album is impressive and noteworthy. People who show hesitance at embracing black metal even could be embraced. You like death metal or prog? You can find plenty to like on these seven tracks that will keep you captivated and at full attention.

Infera Bruo coverInfera Bruo, which means “hellish noise,” is comprised of four individuals you may know from other bands. The lineup of guitarist/vocalist Galen (Trap Them), bassist/vocalist Neutrino (Encrimson’d), effects wizard/synth player Germanicus (Cul de Sac, the Girls), and drummer/vocalist Androth (Bothildir, Shadar Logoth) come from interesting musical backgrounds, which might explain why they have such an interesting way of making their art. There are all kind of things going on during these seven tracks, and it might take a few listens to absorb every element of this aggressive, peculiar (in a great way) album.

The madness starts on “Astrogenesis,” a track that kicks off the drama (it feels like classic Amorphis) with penetrating buzzing, noise zaps, and mangling vocals that bring the ugliness. Noise bubbles up, as the band hits a black metal curve, and then things go into proggy territory, turning your brain upside down. The song enters into a clean passage before coming out of the other side into manic fury. “Formless” tears opens, raging like ripping thunderstorm (similar to the one outside my window right now) before strange cosmic noise arrives and warps the cut’s face. Clean singing emerges, an element that returns here and there across the album, and that goes into a spacious setting flush with atmosphere. The playing sprawls from there, with militaristic drumming keeping pace, before going out on a growl-filled high. “Send My Ashes North” has disorienting noise and riffs that charge up, as the band finds its black metal gallop and rides it hard. Cold singing brings a sense of robotic detachment, but later the tempo rises again, shifts seemingly at will, and weirdly ends on a rock-like vibe.

The three-part “Proclamation” set starts with an unassuming intro piece on “Part I: Vessel of the Void” that trickles slowly and sets the stage for “Part II: The Silence Enfleshed.” There, antenna-like interference charges and scorches, only swallowed by a black metal assault that gets the fires raging. The music is bendy and rubbery at times, easily causing you dizziness, and the final moments are heady and heavy in anticipation of the triptych’s conclusion. “Part III: In Conjuration” has humid guitars that burst into rampage, with singing that rises above the murk, and urges of, “Let the great serpent strike,” practically begging for destruction. From there, fury and infectious oddity intermingle and create a scene that can tear at your flesh but also keep your mind wandering. Epic closer “The Two of Seven” is active and rushing from the start, with dark guitars bustling and creaky growls crawling from under the soil. The musical progressions are smart and unpredictable, with melodies swelling, the vocals going from epic to gurgling, and a spacey opening luring the song into its clutches and onto planes unknown.

Infera Bruo are great at keeping us guessing what’s next, and their second record “In Conjuration” catapults them even higher up the list of bands unafraid of challenging black metal’s borders. Yeah, the music is plenty dark and vicious enough, but what makes this group so special is their unwavering commitment to keep dreaming bigger and more colorfully. That approach is to their benefit, as well as their listeners, who crave for something unlike anything they’ve heard before.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://eihwazrecordings.com/distro/

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

Khemmis mix traditional doom with modern-style punishment on impressive debut ‘Absolution’

Photo by Travis Heacock

Photo by Travis Heacock

As much as I love doom metal and tend to bask in it pretty much constantly, I am becoming more and more skeptical about the onslaught of new bands that hit us on a weekly basis. There’s a lot of the same stuff going on, and not like I’m the grand master of taste or anything, but it gets a special effort to really wake me up.

Possibly it was the trust I have in 20 Buck Spin, but when the Khemmis promo landed in my inbox a few weeks back, I dug in immediately. The lure of traditional doom strains piqued my interest (though there are many bands that butcher that terrain as well), and mere minutes into the band’s debut record “Absolution,” I was totally hooked. A lot of what people like about Pallbearer is here, from the elegant doom storytelling to the clean singing, but the music isn’t a mirror image. There also are elements of Sabbath, St. Vitus, and many of the other doom pioneers, as well as some grimier, heavier parts that travel more modern pathways. All in all, they take these various aspects of this well-worn sub-genre and create six songs that burst with life and should get your fists firing into the air.

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}The Denver-based quartet only have been alive for three years now, and they already have an impressive, soulful grasp on their sound. The members choose to go by single names for this project, with Phil and Ben on guitars and vocals, Dan on bass, and Zach (Dominion, Vasaeleth) on drums. The band’s sound is heavily steeped in the late 1970s/early 1980s, especially when it comes to the clean vocals, but when the time is right and some thorns are required, the band can unload the hammers and get as heavy as you need them to be.

The record opens with “Torn Asunder,” a track that simmers in buzzing doom and muscular riffs before it opens up. The singing envelops you, swallows you, and drives you into the smoke, where the guitars light up and start blazing. Later the growls emerge and the grit smothers, with cosmic feedback filling in the final moments. “Ash, Cinder, Smoke” unveils more strong guitar work, as well as some vocal harmonizing you don’t hear everyday on a metal record. The pace starts to gallop, with melodies aligning, dual guitars glowing, and vicious growls filling in and injecting a sense of dread. “Serpentine” uncoils slowly, with the vocals filling the space, providing both character and a guide through the murk. The guitars begin to spill out, helping give the song its form, but then it’s right into a tempo shift that signals storms on the horizon. The music gets heavier and deadlier, with the growls sounding vicious and the rest of the band surrounding all of this with blinding power.

“Antediluvian” is a bit more raw, trudging hard out of the gates and being drizzled with psychedelic guitars. Out of the smoke, burly and beastly howls lead the way, adding to the song’s menace. Singing later colors in the background, as the song’s title is howled with strength and desperation. “Burden of Sin” kicks up the mud, with the growls arriving first for a change and taking the track down a shadowy path. Later, clean singing arrives, adding engaging drama to the whole thing. While there is sludge, and it is thick, there is just as much great melody to balance everything out and split time between dark and light. Closer “The Bereaved” is a nine-minute climax, the longest cut on the record and one of the most impressive. After a clean psychedelic open, sounds start to burst and the guitars begin to wail. The singing is emotional and reaches out for a hand from beyond, with the band digging deep into the same places mined before them by Sabbath and other greats, as they surge and put on a final display of power. The final moments find the band pushing their might into the stratosphere, giving way to swirling pockets of fuzz that lead the song into the unknown.

Khemmis’ debut is totally solid and one you should try to track down no matter what style of doom is your favorite. These guys have a great style, awesome delivery, and knack for writing songs that are just long enough to feel epic but not overstay their welcome. “Absolution” is a tremendous effort that signals the arrival of a great new doom power.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://20buckspinshop.com/

For more on the label, go here: https://www.facebook.com/20buckspin

Finnish space warriors Abyssion spill mind-altering chaos into ‘Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä’

Abyssion bandMetal has an obscene amount of sub-genres and sound descriptors that it has caused a backlash with a lot of people. But look, metal has grown and expanded. It doesn’t contain the same elements it once did exclusively. As a writer, just tabbing a band “metal” is a sort of disservice to the reader. You have to say more especially since so much music that fits underneath metal’s umbrella needs more description.

There’s no better example of this than Finnish power Abyssion, whose latest album “Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki” will dump you on your head and have your mind spinning. Sure, at its core, this band is metal. But everything mixed into this bizarre soups pulls at so many other strings that one needs to go further in fully explaining what this sound entails. So, here goes: cosmic doom and psyche-laced black metal. It’s a huge journey you take with this band on its third record, and over these five cuts, nothing is certain except for adventure into the black abyss. This group comprised of members of other noted daring chemists including Oranssi Pazuzu and Dark Buddha Rising never lets onto where they’re going next, and the music that spills out over the album can make you feel mentally warped one minute, steaming with anger the next as you live vicariously through their art.

AbyssionThe album opens with “Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki” that lets noise and fuzz filter into the room and fill it with smoke. Just as you’re feeling yourself drift away, the song bursts open, with fiery riffs, a seriously catchy tempo, and blips and space madness. The vocals arrive as monstrous barks, scarier than what might be expected from music that seems to have an element of chill to it. The song blasts pretty hard, with the atmosphere swelling, the playing pummeling, and the back end delivering massive crunch. “Kosmoksesta tuli hautani” also spills a bucket of sound into the scene before really getting under way. The guitar work, again, is rock solid, with the vocals menacing and splitting into maniacal howls. The riffs have an infectious effect, and at one point the tempo feels like it is settling into serenity. But it’s a tease, as every element explodes again before catapulting into outer space.

“Vihreä liekki” starts with furious shouts and a punk-driven assault (damnit, ANOTHER element to their music) that runs head-first into a folk-like (fuck it, guys!) wall. It’s ridiculously huge and stimulating, and that’s before it reveals its sharp teeth and starts working its way into your chest cavity. The vocals are like a burly tirade, with the music swirling and enrapturing, leading into a swarm of drama and alien stabs. “Ajatus kirkastuu” simmers in dream-inducing zaps before heading into a more rock-oriented terrain that feels both catchy and fluid. The vocals remain fierce, firing daggers your way, while the band unleashes a huge synth haze that leads on your path into the night. Closer “Pysähdyn kuuntelemaan hiljaisuutta” starts with drums stampeding over you, with the guitars hanging out in the background taunting. Then the thing blows up hard, with more intergalactic violence clubbing and the vocals sounding as scary as they do anywhere else on the record. This song has the most pure black metal elements of anything on the album, with everything they do flooding your senses and leaving you a sobbing, sweating mess who just took the strangest trip of your life.

So yeah, good luck trying to pass off Abyssion as just some ordinary metal band. What they’ve been creating for nearly a decade now is from a different world, and they’re a band that’s injecting fresh ideas and strange DNA into metal’s overall makeup. “Luonnon harmonia ja vihreä liekki” is a really fun, at times really brutal record, and it threatens to destroy everything you thought you knew about metal.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/

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

PICK OF THE WEEK: Valdur’s hate and vitriolic expression colors ugly ‘Pathetic Scum’ with blood

ValdurI realize the week is over and it’s time to get some relaxation for many of us, but if you don’t mind, I’m going to dwell in utter negativity and soot-caked fury. Not everyone had a good past few days, and maybe having a hellish blast of hatred can be just what one needs to black out over beers this weekend and not feel actual feelings for a stretch Or something like that.

Valdur have been a pretty reliable go-to resource when I want to drown in filth and remember that there are people out there deeper into the blackness that I. Not that I revel in other’s people negativity, but knowing I have a record like the band’s mammoth new “Pathetic Scum” means I have something that can channel the frustration of every day’s demands and idiocy and align with them so I am not compelled to throw a desk out of a window. Out of the band’s four studio efforts, all of which we hail, this is one of the dirtiest, most deafening collection of blasts, an album that sounds like it is taking you on an unrequested ride down the halls of severe mental and bodily torture. The band always had an infernal, nasty sound to them, but what they smear over these six new tracks is a newfound level of anger that makes their work that much more enjoyable and cathartic.

Valdur coverThe black metal-smothered, death-minded band has a weird lineup issue coming on the heels of the album’s release. Valdur’s guitarist/vocalist Samuel remains in the fold but is in sort of a holding pattern with the band right now as he deals with personal and family matters. Luckily he was here to lend his hellish pipes to this bastard. William remains on bass, and Matthew plays drums, with Vuke joining the band as a second guitarist. Or when it comes to live matters right now, the only guitarist, with Roskva taking Samuel’s place on vocals. Yeah, it’s a little confusing, but you won’t mind when you are getting mashed by these crushing six songs, which follow up the work the band did on 2013’s miserable and awesome “At War With.”

The record blasts open with the molten “Tank Torture,” a 9:27-long serving of decibolic torture that’s heavy and grievous. The dark fury and wretched growls combine to form a great beast, pushing forward and claiming souls, with punishingly dense churning that might make it feel like your inner core is turning to burning liquid. The song gets uglier as it goes on, with the band wailing at you, battering your senses, and keeping the onslaught going to the very end. “Impending Doom” is sooty and gnarly, with riffs piling on top of each other and gruff growls bruising your skin. Speed eventually hits, as the band hits a new mode of violence, and the remainder of the song spills blood in a sticky, gruesome assault. “Blessing of the Goat” might make some smirk, but it’s serious business. Wailing and bleating begin the track, with black melodies raining down, and the pace playing games with your mind. Later, chilling chants rise up, which are answered by wild shrieks, and this mean and eerie passage finally bleeds out.

The smothering title cut follows, with charged-up guitars, evil riffs, and heinous growls that sound like they have the worst of intents. Guitars race ahead and achieve blinding heat, with the band going on a clobbering, destructive path that leaves only bodies and dust in its wake. “Incantre Part 2” (the first part appeared on “At War With”) is the shortest cut at 3 minutes, with the band wasting no time to get on the killing path. But just as the intensity builds to its highest point, spacey noises swoosh in, letting cosmic dust spread and weird synth blips create a strange atmosphere. But then it’s back to chaos for the final minute, ending in a haze. Warped closer “Morbid Emanations” rises out of a pocket of noise, with riffs rippling and vocals seeming to bubble. Then it bursts, with deranged, gurgled wails, music that lacerates, and eventually wild chants, feeling primordial and churning. Keys again take hold, bringing more strangeness into the picture, and the band pummels hard and wildly toward the finish, leaving burn marks all over your body and soul.

Valdur didn’t waste a hell of a lot of time following up their last record, and that’s for the best for all of us, because their amalgamation of death and black metal remains molten and terrifying. “Pathetic Scum” keeps the band trudging through the bloody mud and aiming right for your jugular with their rage. Valdur deserve to have more people know about them and basking in their ash-choked agenda. But I doubt they care about that. As long as they’re willing, Valdur are sure to bulldoze hearts and souls into oblivion as they burn their way across the Earth.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/VALDUR/113286852094147

To buy the album, go here: http://www.bloodymountainrecords.com/valdur.html

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

Mind-melting prog black metal crushers BearstorM unleash captivating album ‘Americanus’

unnamed(8)As involved and heavily populated as the metal globe is right now, getting something new that makes you wonder what the hell is going on is becoming a rare occurrence. Actually, usually when I do feel this way it’s over a record that makes my insides turn in a bad way and that ends up in my e-mail trash bin.

That changes today with the arrival of the peculiarly named BearstorM. Yes, you read that name right, and no they don’t employ wacky gimmicks nor do they have eye-killing T-shirts nor do they grate at the nerves like the name might indicate. They play an amalgamation of black metal, death metal, prog, American folk, and Southern rock that sounds like it should not make sense but totally does. Well, that is if your brain is willing to handle the insanity going on here, because right from the start, this band and their latest album “Americanus” (a re-recording of their 2013 record by the same name) will dump you on your head. The band plays with insane skill and precision, though never at the expense of the music’s heart, and the vocal are pretty damn grisly. This record is bound to not be for everyone. I just realized that the “grating nerves” thing I mentioned earlier might actually come into play for some people. But I love the inventiveness and skull-spinning devastation of it all, and it never ceases to astonish me.

Bearstorm coverThe band is made up of Michael Edwards on vocals; Kelsey Miller on guitar and fiddles; Greg Bates on guitars; Jay Lindsey on bass and midi synth; and Patrick DeRoche on drums. This Richmond, Va., based unit also uses the power of their imagination and storytelling on their albums, as debut “Horrobilus” told the tale of banished thief going to the Baba Yaga for help, which comes at the expense of his life. He re-emerges as a bear (perhaps a hint toward the bane name) and consumes his human form, but after seeking revenge, he finds he has his own cost to pay. Heady. “Americanus” is a little stripped back from that, instead concentrating on the history of the North American continent and its transformation and destruction from both natural and human forces. It’s a wake-up call of sorts.

The story begins on the 11:22 brain-melter “Glacial Relic/Riparian Forest,” a song that gives you little time to prepare for this band’s ways. Strange, cosmic guitar work erupts, leading into a death prog explosion that’s both baffling and surging. The growls are harsh and feral, as they are for the bulk of the record, and later the music heads for the stratosphere. There are sequences of crushing and then settling, which go back and forth, and after one final violent burst, the band heads back toward the front and wraps the song up nicely. “De Soto” blows open, with the band whipping up a storm and the melodies feeling Rush-inspired at times. There’s a lot of challenging, jar-you-awake stuff here, bleeding into the song’s final valley of Southern-inspired melodies. The final moments are dressed in banjo and rustic underpinnings, which gives the track a nice campfire feel. “Little Portals to the Greater Sadness” has a spiraling, flurried opening before the thing toughens up and starts throwing haymakers. The melodies then come in and cause mild dizziness, with the growls taking on an animalistic tone and the guitars having a Thin Lizzy-esque fire to them, making the song perplexingly catchy before its gruff end.

“Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” begins with guitars burning brightly, and then it slides into old-style Mastodon territory, which is a positive. The growling leans toward a melodic end, like a monstrous sing-song terror, though later that turns into gurgling growls. Toward the end, musical sparks fly, molten soloing erupts, and the band totally bashes your brains in. Closer “Glacial Relic II” is an 8:53 finale that starts with fluttering guitars spiraling into Southern-style sludge. The guitars start jabbing with the pointy end, as the melodies that swell up stymie and confound your mind, and just underneath all of that murk, the growls crawl. The band goes back to the swarming, humid guitar work before taking an unexpected jaunt into the stars where cosmic blips arrive, strings strike, and the final sounds you hear are water trickling and birds calling. Perhaps this signals the world turning back to natural roots.

Certainly BearstorM won’t be for everyone’s ears, as they can be a little bendy and harsh for some (it actually took me a few tries to completely warm up). But I like an adventure, and the music on “Americanus” keeps me wide awake and wondering what’s next, even on subsequent listens. That’s how many curves and back roads they take on this record, and while it might make your neck hurt the following day due to all the twists, you might find yourself morbidly interesting in taking this ride all over again.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://grimoirerecords.bandcamp.com/

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