Stunning duo Taurus explore meanings, cosmic mysteries on astonishing ‘Life’

Photo by Veleda Thorsson

Being surprised is something that doesn’t happen to me nearly enough when encountering new music. So much music these days is utterly predictable, non-dangerous, devoid of adventure, and played so closely to the vest. Not that bands that follow that path can’t make good music, but too often I walk away from that stuff with a very uninspired image in my head.

Doing something against the grain and going for broke might not always bear fruit. But generally that direction is the one that leads to music that sticks with you and keeps you dreaming. I think that was the intention of Stevie Floyd (Dark Castle) and Ashley Spungin (formerly of Purple Rhinestone Eagle) when they joined forces and came out as Taurus. There is nothing conventional about this duo, and even if there are some sonic streams from Floyd’s guitar work that trickle into their debut album “Life,” the end result is nothing like what either of their other bands created. This is an experience as much as it is an album, and it’ll make you imagine.

I’ve spent a lot of time with “Life,” and not once have I had the same experience. Each time the album unfurls in a unique manner, I hear things I didn’t notice before, and I’m newly enraptured by what takes place. It’s very difficult to accurately describe what’s happening on the two lenghty tracks that comprise this effort, and mere adjectives such as ambient, doomy, spacey, haunting, and beautiful certainly fit to an extent but do not do justice to the whole. You really have to immerse yourself in this album and find out how it speaks to you. Chances are, you’ll see things no one else has before. It’s unique like a dream.

The band’s bio is as perplexing and open to possibilities as the music itself. They’re exploring meanings, philosophies, spiritualities, and cosmos, and while you don’t have to align with them mentally to enjoy this incredible experience, you’ll get so much more out of it if you try. One of my most enriching times with this album was while watching a thunderstorm work its way down the river as I sat 32 floors above the ground. It me made think not so much about about the loud noises and pounding rain, but all the elements involved in the storm–the atmospheric pressure that turned it into what it was, the path that determined where it would strike, the beautiful chaos amid the clouds and lightning and precipitation and how it would nurture the ground. Taurus’ music is the same, in that there are so many intricate layers that make it into what it is. That never ceases to amaze me.

I am pretty much game for anything Floyd does. Her band Dark Castle is one of my favorites, and some of the guitar work and tones she used to paint 2011’s stunning “Surrender to All Life Beyond From” can be heard here. Just the tones and hypnotic atmosphere, not the sludgy, hellbound riffs. This music is far more reflective and expansive than the immediate, chugging work of Dark Castle, and this is a glimpse into another side of her creativity. Spungin’s previous band also was louder and more straight-ahead rock than what’s here, and she could melt a kit with her stick work. But like Floyd, she’s a different animal here, filling in corners, setting paces, helping build the drama. These two work wonderfully together, almost as if they creatively became whole making this 35-minute, two-part piece. Their contributions seem to speak to each other and share a prose.

The record starts off with a weird noise loop, and I can’t really decide what it sounds like to me. An unattended machine swiveling out of control? A loose fan? We also get some quotes from author Philip K. Dick and composer John Cage — his line, “I don’t need sound to talk to me,” is particularly moving — whose words apear here and there throughout this piece, and not just as some cool tool. Each line used in this piece has weighted meaning and placement, and arrive just when they’re needed. On the first part of the journey, guitars are smeared like oil on a canvas, getting cloudy and undefined but eventually turning into shapes and patterns. Floyd howls and wails over these passages, using a far different expression mechanism than she does when fronting Dark Castle, almost as if she’s moving through an awakening.There’s a nice bit of noise erosion, Spungin’s drums roll out and tumble over rocky terrain, and the entire vision reaches its first apex as Cage’s words take us out of the first piece and then back into the second.

Part II opens with a more damaged approach, as guitars melt, grab onto abstract melodies and stretch them out, and eventually dissolve into ambient haze, with Spungin blazing a path alongside Floyd, and disappearing when the time is right. Floyd gets throatier and screamier at points here, as her vocals reach a fevered pitch, and the dream begins to look more like a murky nightmare. The drumming becomes unsettling, like someone grabbing you and shaking you before you give in to unconsciousness, and the guitar lines are scraped with rocks, the vision prepares for its departure, and Dick espouses about past lives, leaving you wondering just where in your experience as a living being you really are. Or maybe you’ll get something altogether different out of it. Like I said, each time I have a unique experience, but these are the prevailing themes that repeat in my head.

Taurus won’t be for all listeners. If you require meaty riffs and breakdown and blasts, this world will feel foreign and weird to you. If you can enjoy fine patterns, psychedelic storms, and music that’ll challenge you to live, Taurus will infect you and refuse to let go of your cells. This is a wonderful, eye-opening experience, adding more meaning to what my thoughts about what “Life” — both the record and existence — really are. I don’t imagine I’ll ever happen upon a permanent answer, and that’s a good thing because I never want to stop trying.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/TAURUSISDUST

To buy the album (in various forms), go here: http://taurusisdust.bandcamp.com/

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Testament remain thrash metal’s purest, finest warriors on ‘Dark Roots of Earth’


Everyone keeps talking about the Big 4 of thrash. There has been so much talk and hype about it the past few years, it’s starting to get a little bit annoying. I acknowledge the meaning and significance of it all, even if it’s happening 10-15 years too late, way past the point where the majority of the bands are at their best. But OK, fine, sure. We salute you for trying.

But what bothers me the most about it is the other ’80s thrash bands that have not gotten their just due because they’ve once again been eclipsed by this gigantic parade of bloated self-importance. Metallica haven’t made a good record in 20 years. Megadeth have had an OK comeback musically, but they, too, haven’t done anything great in two decades. Anthrax have operated like a joke band much of the past decade, doing a lot of dumb shit, and only now with Joey Belladonna back in the fold and a really solid comeback record in tow have they finally risen above all the silliness. Slayer are the most consistent, trustworthy of the bunch, but even they’ve seen better days.

So what about the other thrash bands who made the ’80s wave of awesomeness such a pivotal time in heavy metal. Overkill remain a killing force, really have been largely consistent, and also have a pretty rad new album that crushes anything Metallica or Megadeth have done since the early ’90s. Exodus aren’t really as recognizable as the lineup they employed in their glory days, but they can still bring it. And perhaps the best of the bunch, Testament, really should have exploded in popularity when they emerged in the late 1980s, but the circumstances of metal over-saturation and the rise of grunge seemed to put an end to that. Had times been a little different, we might be talking about the Big 5, with these guys effectively killing stadiums too.

Testament have had their ups and downs, mostly due to lineup shifts, but they’ve been the ones who, when other thrash bands were reaching for accessibility, decided to get meaner and uglier. They didn’t wimp out or bow to pressure or change their philosophy. They remained metal to their core, and as a result, you can’t really go back and name any embarrassing moments from the band’s run. How can you knock honesty and integrity, even if all of their albums weren’t necessarily home runs? I trust these guys, and they’ve never let me down philosophically.

In 2008, with 4/5 of their classic lineup in tow, including lead guitarist and mad scientist Alex Skolnick, the band unleashed “The Formation of Damnation,” arguably the best late-career album of any of thrash’s old guard, an album that stands strong to this day. It was heavy, melodic, glorious, and right up there with their classic albums “The Legacy,” “New Order,” and “Practice What You Preach.” The record reignited the band creatively and forcibly interjected them back into the conversation about who’s the greatest thrash band of all time. Honestly, taking commercial success out as a factor, Testament have my vote. They always have, too.

Now, four years after their glorious return, we have their 10th studio effort “Dark Roots of Earth,” one of the year’s most anticipated metal albums and one most people expected would have dropped well before now. But the band apparently decided not to rush things and would not be satisfied until they had an album that satisfied them, and certainly you can’t knock them for that decision. The band — vocalist Chuck Billy, guitarists Eric Peterson and Skolnick, bassist Greg Christian, and drummer Gene Hoglan, replacing Paul Bostaph — has a formula that works for them, and through the years, they’ve refined it and roughed it up so that they not only maintained their artistic vision, but they also kept their edge. “Dark Roots” proves them remained very faithful to that model.

Now, with all that positivity aside, there are a few issues with the new record. The album feels divided into two halves, and I don’t know if that’s on purpose. The first four cuts sound like they were crafted for riotous live responses on the fest circuit. That’s to a fault. Opener “Rise Up” has some of the weakest lyrics ever on a Testament song, including the call-response chorus that feels forced. It’s fine to howl, “When I say, ‘Rise up,’ you say, ‘War!'” in a live setting, off the cuff. When it’s the chorus to a song, it sounds uncreative at best. It also initially dampened my enthusiasm for the record since it was the first cut out of the gate. “True American Hate” also sounds like something a weak, unseasoned, second-stage Ozzfest band would dream up to get meatheads into a frenzy. Testament are way, way smarter than these two songs, and the tracks have not grown on me in the least no matter how many times I hear them. “Native Blood” is decent and is a chance for Billy to pay homage to his heritage, and the title track is good, not great. But these first four cuts are the weakest on the album. Then things change.

Starting with “A Day in the Death,” shit gets real in a hurry. The Testament I grew up with and loved re-emerges, and the tempo and atmosphere get dangerous. The song opens with a sinister bassline and then evolves into a punchy thrasher with some of Billy’s most passionate vocals and lead lines that delve into power metal and prog rock exploration. “Cold Embrace” is the album epic at 7:53, and it might remind long-time listeners of “The Ballad.” It’s slower, more reflective, but definitely not without teeth. And, as you may guess, the song does blow up and show its rage, making proper use of every second. “Man Kills Mankind” is another scathing killer, with vocal patterns that sound like their classic material, really strong guitar work, and a bruising assault. “Throne of Thorns” has some clean sections that eventually find their way to chaos, and the guitar work sounds like classic ’80s-style heavy metal. Final cut “Last Stand for Independence” is anthemic and intelligent, making good for some of the early album cuts, and this is one that could really whip a crowd into a frenzy without pandering to the mouth breathers. This is a stand-up, fuck-all display of power that sticks with you long after it ends.

As noted, there are drawbacks to “Dark Roots,” and it’s not as strong as “Formation” from front to back. But there’s still some great material here that’ll put hair on your chest and leave your nerve endings tingling. Testament remain thrash metal’s finest institution, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for these career-long road warriors.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.testamentlegions.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://store.nuclearblastusa.com/Artist/Testament/10177

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

Barghest, FALSE achieve elevated levels of black metal majesty, fury with split


I’m going to spare you the bullshit today. Normally I try to craft an essay about whatever piece of music I’m going to discuss, attempt to relate to my life or societal events, and then go on about the bands and what they produced. Today, I feel like that’s not necessary, because this subject matter is far too urgent and important.

Last year, we got to know two deadly, mysterious new black metal forces in Barghest, a lo-fi monster, and FALSE, whose debut album was Meat Mead Metal’s No. 1 release of 2011. Both threw convention under cement truck wheels, backed over it several times, and spread the blood all over walls and windows. I don’t remember being as excited about two groups from this genre in a long time, and both seemed to have promising futures ahead of them. Now we know a little bit more about what each band is capable of doing and that their first efforts weren’t flashes in the pan.

Soon, you’ll be able to have in your hands the new split effort featuring both FALSE and Barghest, being released by Gilead Media. Full disclosure: I was super amped about this release when I first learned about it and could not wait to hear the thing for the first time. I think of everything due in 2012, it was the thing I was most excited about. But, you know I’ve gotten all excited about releases in the past that ended up not being as awesome as imagined, so I can be pretty hard on something when I’m let down. That said, just one listen to this three-song effort cemented everything I figured it would be, that being a volcanic, hate-ridden hell beast of a joint effort that I imagine will blaze to life once I get a version that can be played on my record player. Seriously, any hype this release gets is not enough. It’s essential listening. It’s frothing-at-the-mouth real, utterly explosive, and proof that not every young band goes for polished and pristine. Some just want to burn everything in front of them with as much intensity as possible. Both of these bands do their best to exterminate.

Barghest

We’ll start with Barghest’s contribution to this split, two rough, filthy, ground up, untreated songs that take a dull razor to black metal’s throat. The band hails from Baton Rouge, La., and they spew bad intentions and the desire to see humanity suffer. It sounds like they’re physically releasing demons when they play this stuff, and you’re hard pressed to find something that sounds this nasty yet excellently put together. Don’t mistake these guys as amateurs for their sound. What you hear is what they intended, but their chops as musicians and melody makers cannot be denied. Their self-titled debut album sounded like a bodily injury, and what they contribute to this split is along the same lines, only with the intensity and pissiness amplified.

“Shifting Sands” is the opener on the Barghest side, and you’ll notice underneath all the hellish carnage is a melody line. They do those really well, and they bury them just enough so that you suffocate on the smoke rising elsewhere and only catch onto that glimmer of glory once you’re overcome. There is some really great, murky guitar work here courtesy of Matthew Thudium (also of Thou), Jason Thorning, and Dallas Smith, while drummer Terry Gulino pounds the shit out of his kit and gives everything a machine gun vibe. It’s also an older song that hasn’t been available in any form before. “Inhuman Hatred,” a brand new track, has such a wonderful title, because it’s exactly what the songs sounds like. It’s monstrous, especially when Smith goes for the inhaled death grunts you hear, and there is a sense of complete menace that captures and annihilates you. Not sure this song is an indication as to where they’re headed in the future, but if so, I sense more of a primal, gut-wrenching death metal display could enter their mix more frequently. Great, another genre for them to dominate.

I really love what Barghest contributed to this split, and they play like a band intent on making deeper and gorier the chip on their collective shoulders. The million new black metal bands that pop up every year should be forced to hear this band to see if they measure up creatively and emotionally. If they can’t come close, they should just quit.

FALSE

On the more creative, yet no less massive end, come FALSE. Their two-track debut was quite a load, and it took many listens to get my head around everything that was going on with that record. Their music sounds like 19 people put together all of those layers, but instead, it’s only six of them. And it hits you like a ferocious thunderstorm, with singer Rachel leading the way with her inhuman, throat gnashing growls and shrieks that strangle your imagination. I still listen to their debut regularly to this day, and getting something new from the band obviously was quite welcome.

As is expected with FALSE, their entry “Heavy as a Church Steeple” is long. More than 17 minutes long. And that song title hits directly on the head the tempo and power of this song. The track begins kind of inauspiciously, with a hazy guitar line, some synth bleeding, and a sense of calm you know is horribly temporary. When the moment hits for the song to explode into a million pieces, it does so with weight and purpose, as the tempo speeds up, Rachel howls along like she’s on fire, and the rest of the band begins laying waste to everything with all the weapons in their arsenal. The guitars peel out and pull back when the song regains its head, the synthesizers sound like “Seventh Son” era Iron Maiden and paint a mystical picture, and then the foundation cracks and lava vomits forth, covering every inch of land. The band’s appreciation of and homage to Norwegian black metal is ever present here, and they make look like fools the tons of other bands who try but don’t really understand the same influence. This is just icy, titanic stuff, and maybe they’re Minneapolis home base has something to do with the frigidity.

FALSE’s imaginative, thought-provoking, emotional black metal never fails to move me wholly. I love everything about this band, and it’ll be a crime if this sextet’s profile doesn’t start to rise dramatically. Seriously, everyone, pay attention to this band. You need to know their name, you need to encounter their work, and you need to feel their incredible power. I haven’t been this excited by a new band the way I am about FALSE in a really long time, and every song they put out ramps that enthusiasm even more. I can’t wait to witness them live when they hit my hometown in September, and I plan to follow every move of what I hope is a long, meaningful career.

For more on Barghest, go here: http://www.facebook.com/barghestsoulless

For more on FALSE, go here: http://www.metal-archives.com/bands/False/3540332204

To buy the album (should be on sale soon), go here: http://www.gileadmedia.net/store/

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

Nachtmystium’s black metal resurgence on ‘Silencing Machine’ has hits, misses

Blake Judd

I like to think that Meat Mead Metal has been pretty open to accepting the changes and shifts bands decide to take as their careers wind along. Any weird whim or claim of maturation has been embraced, analyzed, and either accepted or rejected, but never have we taken a band to task from trying something new. We just haven’t always liked the changes.

While their last two full-length albums were released before this site was formed, I have gone to great lengths to proclaim elsewhere the merits of Nachtmystium’s “Black Meddle” duo of albums and the value in the different things they tried. In fact, “Assassins” was my favorite album of 2008, and while there was some of their black metal past packed into that adventurous effort, it was a deep exploration into psychedelics and space rock. 2010’s “Addicts” went even further, delving into deathrock, industrial noise, and gulp, dance-worthy, punk-flavored jams, and the whole thing seemed to leave a lot of listeners cold. I’m OK with the album, as I really like some of it, while other parts I occasionally visit, but it’s one hell of a risk to do some of the things that Blake Judd-led band attempted. I think it’s underrated.

One of the most punk rock and black metal things a band can do is to take the rulebook — and yes, both genres have thick volumes of regulations — and toss it into an incinerator. What’s more daring, adventurous, and non-conformist than to do something completely against the norm even if it irritates a large part of a genre’s audience? Adapt or die, Nachtmystium seemed to say, and they sure didn’t appear concerned that some folks had an issue with their experimentation. I won’t cite page and verse, but there were some reviews in particular that seemed childishly knee-jerk reactionary, ready to attack because the critics weren’t served exactly what they thought they’d get.

Two years after the divisive “Addicts” dropped, we have the latest full-length from Nachtmystium called “Silencing Machine.” Before any notes of music were revealed, there was a ton of speculation regarding how it would sound considering two things: One, the band performed their classic “Instinct: Decay” at Roadburn, fanning excitement they would return to their roots. Second they had released a 7-inch effort that featured a Joy Division cover and sounded a hell of a lot like Ministry, making others wonder if this was a new path. Were we in for a throwback or something that sounded more like their last couple risk-taking albums? Turns out the answer is mostly the former with a handful of the latter.

“Silencing Machine” is heavier than the last two albums combined. It does hearken back to the band’s earlier days, when Judd was a promising, upcoming musician who was as hungry and deadly as they come. His snarl and growl is in fantastic shape, and he has one of the most recognizable voices in black metal. On the other hand, there is attention paid to melody, and sometimes the tracks have more of a rock tempo, such as on “The Lepers of Destitution” and “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams.” If Judd decided to sing or yell over those tracks, you could argue there’s nothing black metal about them. The rest of the band — guitarist Drew Markuszewski (also of Avichi, Lord Mantis), drummer Charlie Fell (Lord Mantis), bassist Will Lindsay (Chrome Waves, Indian), and programmer/keyboardist Sanford Parker (producer to the stars) — is sharp and deadly, proving the time they’ve had to gel as a live unit bore poisonous fruit. They’re one hell of a multi-limbed beast.

Actually, another short bit on the band and the instrumentation. While this is a black metal album, it is not one full of cliche. The guitar work is imaginative and provoking, while the drumming isn’t all blasts all the time. They went for something interesting instead of expected, and that makes these songs sound fresh and not like your everyday black metal.

So the band is back with most of their weight in the black metal terrain, that cannot be disputed, but is it for the better? Is this a stunting of their growth? Perhaps. One thing that struck me after spending a good bit of time with this album is that the songs don’t stand out as much as they did on the “Meddle” records or “Instinct.” There are some cuts, such as the enthralling, exciting title track, the psychedelic, mid-tempo “And I Control You,” and sci-fi brushed, powerfully constructed “Decimation Annihilation” that should be great live staples. These are strong songs and the ones I go back and revisit the most. The rest is hit and miss, with nothing really reaching greatness, but none that lack merit.

Opener “Dawn Over the Ruin of Jerusalem” is the first sign that the band is back for bloodshed, and while it’s a blast of a first salvo, it doesn’t really stick. “I Wait in Hell” is a cool song, with a deliberate pace and doom horns, and there’s a really neat section where the band segues into an old-school thrash beating seamlessly. Both “Reduced to Ashes” and “Give Me the Grave” are OK but a bit underwhelming, and neither would have been missed had they been cut from here and been used as B sides. Closer “These Rooms in Which We Weep” is a chilling, slower song that lets the album ice over with a layer of somberness. I wasn’t wild about this song at first, but the more I listened to it, the more I started to see the magic and beauty of the track.

So “Silencing Machine” certainly will bring calm to those who just wanted Nachtmystium to be a black metal band and nothing else. You’re getting a hell of a serving here. Those who liked the band’s more streamlined, focused songwriting from their last two albums may be left wanting a little more from these guys. This certainly is a good album, one that has some of the band’s strongest black metal displays in half a decade. But it simply doesn’t reach the level of greatness that this band is capable of achieving. That alone makes “Silencing Machine” a bit of a disappointing effort, but one that does have moments where the band shines like they should.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/OfficialNachtmystium

To buy the album, go here: http://www.cmdistro.com/Search/NACHTMYSTIUM

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

Blood of the Black Owl and Nechochwen draw upon woodsy, spiritual inspiration

Blood of the Black Owl

With things being pretty stormy and unpredictable in my part of the world the last week or so, it’s been a fine time to delve back into my collection of woodsier metal. It just makes sense to me to embrace nature’s beauty and viciousness at the same time, and visiting bands that respect and embody both of those traits always sound good when lightning is blazing across the sky.

In a matter of incredible, yet coincidental timing, I just so happen to have two promos at my disposal from a label that chooses its moves wisely and always has their ears tuned toward bands that celebrate the natural, folk-embellished in the metal kingdom. Bindrune Recordings’ motto is “Woodland Denizens, Unite,” and really, that tells you a lot about the label’s roster. Most of its bands sound like they have their minds in the moist, forestal areas, and they always choose to release music that is as mentally stimulating as it is loud and abrasive. Truth be told, it’s one of my favorite labels in metal, and I always heavily anticipate their releases, as sporadically as they come. Not complaining about that, by the way. I’d rather have a little of a good thing than a ton of stuff that’s hit or miss.

Bindrune has one hell of a bounty for listeners this time with new releases from two of their best bands. Both of the efforts signal a bit of a departure from the bands’ previous work, but not in any radical way that long-time fans could not have seen coming. And I’ve been listening to both albums quite steadily since getting my promo versions, so I’ve had a really nice sonic backdrop to the recent downpours.

We’ll start with Blood of the Black Owl, the more bizarre of the two bands, at least in my opinion. When I first came to know of this project with the self-titled debut album in 2006, it wasn’t exactly love at first listen. I don’t think anyone would argue that Chet W. Scott’s voice takes a little bit of adjustment, it being a creaky, throaty, otherworldly kind of instrument. It can be a bit off-putting, and I found it that way when I first came to know of Blood of the Black Owl, but I kept with the music and now have come to really like his vocals. They don’t sound like anyone else’s, and they buzz and scrape over the landscape of his songs. Musically, I’ve always enjoyed the thunderous magic Scott creates with this project, and the shape-shifting that’s gone on over four full-length albums now has been organic and enriching.

The latest Blood of the Black Owl opus “Light the Fires!” is the most varied among the band’s full-length albums. It takes what was started on 2010’s “A Banishing Ritual” and stretches it even further. The moments of hulking doom and black metal are few and far between, and most of what you’ll find is a trance-inducing, 1970s-prog-embracing, spiritual journey that examines nature, the state of the environment, and humankind’s role in protecting and demolishing it. I am saying this without the benefit of a lyric sheet, so I’m drawing some conclusions here, but I don’t think I’m far off. What cannot be mistaken is the sound that varies radically from what was on the debut album but also continues to transform this project into one of the more thought-provoking, evolutionary in all of metal. It’s a breath-taking performance.

As is the case with most BotBO albums, the songs on here are really long, quite involved, and demand your undivided attention. The record runs 73 minutes, and trust me, you’ll be exhausted when it’s over. I’ve only sat down and gone front to back with the record in one sitting a handful of times, as I usually dip in, take on a few tracks, get a breather, come back. But that certainly is not to suggest the record is too long, because it is not at all, there is just so much going on, from the droning, shakers, throat buzzing, and ritualistic ooze on opener “Caller of the Spirits”; the trippy, folk-dusted, mesmerizing “Wind Eyes”; psychedelic-laced, melodic, spaced-out “Rise and Shine”; “Soil Magicians,” where hints of doom metal rise to the surface; and closer “Disgust and the Horrible Realization of Apathy,” the most metallic, aggressive song on here, and for good reason as Scott seeks to shake out of their selfish comas those who pay no mind to the Earth’s true condition. It’s an awesome, riveting conclusion to Blood of the Black Owl’s most complete, emotional work yet. Go get this.

Nechochwen

As a Pitt football fan, I should hate any band that calls West Virginia home, but alas, I can put that aside for a group as fulfilling as Nechochwen. They, too, have quite a woodsy side to them, and their music can be as calming as it is tumultuous. But as noted before, we’re dealing with two works that have a sense of departure, and the band’s new “double EP” “OtO” may send for a loop fans of the band’s two other full-length displays. Now, we’re not talking a whole new dynamic for this band. They’ve always had a heavy hand toward folk and Native American styles of music, but never more so than what they offer up here. With the exception of the final two songs on this effort, there’s nary a black or death metal note to be found. That said, it’s a really interesting, spacious collection of songs.

The duo conceptually grasps onto themes of ancestral wisdom and native tradition, and while those may sound foreign to such a technologically obsessed society, they ring true to Nechochwen. This is a very emotionally spiritual album, and it’s clear from their playing how deeply they tap into their influences and translate that in their music. The first four songs especially sound like they were dreamt and even performed deep in the forest, where their ancestors once walked, initially planting the seeds for societies that would follow. The lush folk melodies of songs such as opener “Cultivation,” melodic and proggy “On the Wind,” with the refrain, “Do you remember songs they used to sing?” and “Haniipi-miisi (Elm Tree)” and its woodwinds and quiet strumming set the stage and evoke imagery.

The heavier stuff also has quite an impact but never strays from the folk foundation. “He Ya Ho Na” gets punchy and violent, but eventually the band breaks into what sounds like a Native American chant, and trippy guitar work bleeds in to change the scene a bit. It sounds like keyboards, but I’ve been assured it is not. Nice work on that, because it’s really convincing. Closer “Pekikalooletiiwe (Instructions; An Exhortation)” begins calmly enough before exploding into black message rage, furious playing, and then a tranquil finish that lets the smoke from the fires dissipate.

Both of these records are worth your time and monetary investment, and especially with autumn not all that far off, these albums will sound perfect when the air is getting chilly and crisp. But you don’t have to wait. We’ll have more thunderstorms and natural fireworks that can be sound tracked fittingly by these amazing works.

For more on Blood of the Black Owl, go here: http://www.myspace.com/bloodoftheblackowl

For more on Nechochwen, go here: http://nechochwen.com/

To buy the albums, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.com/distro/newarrivals.html

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

To stream either album, go here: http://bindrunerecordings.bandcamp.com/

Legendary Evoken unearth pure despair, sorrow with gut-wrenching ‘Atra Mors’


It’s expected in a category called doom metal that the listener is not expected to feel uplifted while listening to the music. It’s called doom for a reason, in that what you’re hearing is going to be dark, foreboding, and potentially miserably affecting. You should kind of know what you’re getting into.

Obviously from the many, many entries on Meat Mead Metal, it’s clear I enjoy doom metal a great deal. I would guess it sits alongside black metal and the sub-genre in which I indulge the most. But it didn’t really occur to me until recently how little of it really makes me feel dreary and downtrodden. Most of it is incredibly heavy and feels dark and drab, but when it’s over, I don’t often find myself wondering what it’s all for. That’s not a criticism, really, because there has been so much great doom metal recently, much of which would heavily make up a best-of list if 2012 ended today. But not a ton of it reaches that bottom-of-existence plane that often.

And then along come Evoken, with their first set of material since 2007’s “A Caress of the Void” to change all of that. Not since Loss’ “Despond” from last year have I felt this cathartically miserable listening to a record. I don’t consider those emotions as negative. We all face sadness, regret, pain, and despair in our lives, and too often those pitfalls are ignored. Look at mainstream culture. It’s all happiness, gloss, and bubblegum, and really, whose life is really like that? Mine sure as shit isn’t, and I certainly would not say I have a bad life. But those feelings arise sometimes, and if they’re ignored, they keep getting pushed further and further into the back of the mind until one day it becomes too much. Addressing these feelings when they’re on the surface is a healthy way of life, I feel, and Evoken sure sound like they feel the same way.

The band’s incredible new album “Atra Mors” will not make you feel like opening a bottle of bubbly and celebrating life’s many wonders. Instead, it’ll make you address the darkest recesses of existence, the absolute worst of humanity, the most pitiful elements of our daily existence. It’s a coincidence that I spent so much time with this record this past weekend, when so much bad happened, because I had this story planned for this week. But I didn’t want to feel good about things regarding what was going on in the news. It was time for me to grasp the seedy bottom of society and try to make sense of what it is. That’s a shitty, lousy way to spend your time, but ignoring it and pretending it isn’t there is the worse option for me. This music helped me get there and absorb the despair.

Then again, Evoken always have been this way, no matter what’s in the news. Their epic, emotional version of funeral-ready doom metal makes you invest your time and brain to their music, and there’s no taking a quick trip with the band for a speedy turnaround. Their songs are long and crushing, and when one of their records ends, you know you’ve done some serious work. “Atra Mors” (translated from Latin means “black death”) lasts a little over 67 minutes, and you will feel each second of it. Even the two interlude cuts, as lush and gentle as they are, only serve to let you breathe momentarily before diving headfirst into another tarry pool of woe.

I hate to jump toward the end of the record already, but I was overcome by the track “The Unechoing Dread.” This is one of those standout tracks that the moment you hear it, you know you’re onto something special. Vocalist/guitarist John Paradiso goes back and forth from a Tom G. Warrior-style morbid speak-sing on the verses, to a heart-wrenching growl elsewhere, and nowhere is the sense of sadness and madness more pronounced than it is here. The guitar work from Paradiso and Chris Molinari sets the perfect, goth-tinged backing, while Don Zaros’ thick fog synth work spreads like a poison over your body, into your lungs. But this is the second-to-last song on the album, so you have a huge haul before you get to this point. And definitely do NOT jump ahead.

The title track is the opener, with hints of deathrock in the guitar work, a slow, trudging pace, and deliberately unfurled growls. “Descent Into Chaotic Dream” has a clean, seemingly calm intro, but that all folds into an assault of crushed bones of lungs, sitting underneath the enormous weight of this sadness. “Grim Eloquence” reaches into the cosmos for some inspiration, with its slinking programming and an orchestral synth backing, and with about two minutes remaining, all of the hammers are dropped, and they turn this into a dust cloud of devastation. “An Extrinsic Divide” also brings back the deathrock feel, but also dumps noise, hiss, and muddy grit in your lap. Closer “Into Aphotic Devastation” opens with a hint of beauty, as strings are dripped like glaze over a watery melody, but eventually that too is blown to bits by their volcanic tendencies, and the song puts a stunning, bruising exclamation point behind this richly harrowing experience.

Once again, Evoken deliver an incredible platter of true doom the way very few bands pull off these days. There will be tears, frustration, anger, and depression seeping through your pores, and you’ll be better for it when it’s all over. Plus, you will have just witnessed an incredible document that should help the other members of the doom genre find their inner blackness again.

One final note: This is the landmark 100th release in Profound Lore history. Not sure there could be a more fitting record to encapsulate what that label has meant to metal and delivered by way of dark arts since it began. The first Profound Lore release I ever covered was Amber Asylum’s “Still Point,” the label’s 22nd release.  We hope to be here to bring you PF release 200, and so on, as well.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Evoken-Official/91505789372

To buy the album, go here: http://www.profoundlorerecords.com/products-page/

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

Conan’s thumping, doomy debut album ‘Monnos’ should floor you, stoned or not


I have a different way of enjoying stoner-related metal than probably most of that genre’s audience: I don’t get high. That’s because I never get high. That’s because I don’t smoke up. That’s because I don’t want to and not because of worries of getting pee tested at work. Plus, as a good friend once wisely told me, “You don’t want to pee tests creative types.” Indeed.

But I think it’s probably assumed by many people that if you listen to stoner rock or metal, you too must be into smoking pot. It’s the same way people interpret the audience for Satanic metal bands, in that if you listen to that style of music, you must be a minion of the underlord. Yeah, or people just like the music, you know? No one has to be sacrificing babies and drinking horse blood in order to justify one’s interest in Weapon or something like that. I feel the same for stoner metal, in that I can be totally in my right mind and still get carried off by the music. And hey, I have no issue with pot smoking whatsoever, I support, it should be legal, do it, do it, do it. It’s just not my thing.

So it’s funny to me that the first time I really indulged in “Monnos,” the debut album by UK doom merchants Conan, I was mowing the lawn. I’m sure most of whatever hearing I lose as I get older will be due to the volume of music that helps me listen while operating a noisy lawnmower, but it’s one of my weird absorption techniques. It’s how I get used to the underneath rhythms and melodies, how the song feels physically, how it rises and falls. Naturally, I gave the record many, many more listens in quiet rooms with headphones and in my car, but even from that first noise-marred experience, I was in full bore with what these dudes do.

Conan is made up of Phil Coumbe on bass/vocals, Jon Davis on guitar/vocals, and Paul O’Neill on drums, and they are a drubbing, punching force. There is something about their tempos and melodies that naturally makes you want to bang your head along to their songs. I don’t mean like Tom Araya. I’m too old to do that, and I would die. No, more like a forceful nod, because you can’t help but do that as these songs unfurl before you in a most calculating manner. They compel you to participate physically like that. They make you move. Slowly. Just like they do. I find that really cool.

“Monnos” also happens to be a really engaging album that slips in, does its damage, and gets out in a little under 40 minutes and six tracks. That’s perfectly sized. I find myself always satisfied with the serving portion here, and though my interest for more is piqued when it’s all over, I neither feel ripped off nor bloated by overconsumption. The songs are really strong, as long as they need to be, and everything works really well as a whole. Also, Coumbe and O’Neill are a devastating rhythm section and create a muddy, pulsating low end that you practically can reach out and grab. They’re awfully good putting up a foundation, and Davis penetrates that cinder block wall with trancey, chugging guitar work.

The dual vocals also make for an interesting layer. You can hear that on opener “Hawk as Weapon” as the sort of monotone higher vocal line and the lower, more gurgly growling act together as a united voice, sending the same message. “Battle in the Swamp” has an awesome doom groove that sets in and moves the ground, as some shrieks and growls add edge to the track and the heavier tempo lets the guys show more muscle. “Grim Tormentor” is my favorite cut on here and has been from the first time I heard the album sans lawnmower noise.  It has a bad-ass, thumping melody that bleeds like a deliberate beating, and the entire thing is a memorable trip that refuses to leave my head. “Golden Axe” pops in and lets some of the tension out of the room, as the instrumental is buzzy, sometimes intricate, and fairly minimal. It works. The final two songs are the longest of the six. “Headless Hunter” is a slow-trudging, massive cut that has a numbing effect and unmistakable stoner vibe, while “Invincible Throne” is deadly and hazy, well thought out, and sometimes thick with noise and hiss. It’s a great way to let this document burn out, with wafts of smoke sweeping into the night. Great finish.

Conan’s first record is a killer, and it sounds like it’s just the beginning of a beautiful, fruitful career. They certainly will appeal to the High on Fire, Sleep fans in the audience, but they have traits all their own and a massive underbelly that separates them from the pack. This is a thunderous force that may sound great if your mind is floating on a different plane but also will beat your ass. I’m excited to hear where these guys go from here.

For more on the band, go here: http://www.hailconan.com/

To buy the album, go here: http://gravedancerrecords.bigcartel.com/

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

And here: http://burningworldrecords.com/