Catching up: Mastery offer dark terror; Negura Bunget hit the woods; Pelican mount the cliff

Mastery coverIt’s been pretty damn busy in our world the past few weeks, as life sometimes get in the way of the operations. So, yeah, we’re a little behind. But today’s as good a time as any to get on the record about a few releases that have been burning up our ears lately, so we can officially clear our schedule.

First one up is one of the most deranged, relentless things that has been featured on this site in quite some time. Well, I guess since last time we talked about this band three years ago (for a split effort with Palace of Worms). One-man terror striker Mastery finally dropped a first official full-length effort in “Valis.” It’s five tracks of audio torment and living hell, and while that might seem to be a description that gets attached to metal albums far too frequently, you can take it to the bank on this one. The band is the sick brainchild of San Francisco-based Ephemeral Domignostika (Pale Chalice, Asubha), and he sounds like he’s trying to embody the darkest depths of hell in these songs. You’re going to have your face bashed over and over against the ground, and you won’t get up until you’re sufficiently bleeding.

The record is bookended by two mangling epics, the first being “V.A.L.I.S.V.E.S.S.E.L.” that runs 17:53 of unforgiving, unmerciful trauma. It opens with strings stinging as if they’re contained in a tornado of angry hornets, and then things start crushing heavily. Domignostika’s vocals are bizarre (think Fortress Crookedjaw of WOLD), and my non-metal-listening wife said they reminded her of Skeletor. Fair point, and certainly not a negative, as Domignostika sounds unhinged and full of chaos, as the music sprays all over the map, never feeling like it’s on a single straight path and always meandering into different zones you never see coming. There’s a quick section that calms down, where acoustics blow in and the clouds clear, but then it’s back into the storm, where only terror exists.

“A.S.H.V.E.S.S.E.L.” is a quick, serene interlude that is trancey and strange, and that leads into “L.O.R.E.S.E.E.K.E.R.” that erupts into black metal fury. The shrieks are wild and animalistic, while the guitars get blurry and slurry and the assault comes on full throttle. The music keeps biting away at your nerves, driving you as close to insanity as possible, and later the riffs stretch out, the winds grow darker, and eventually the madness fades away. “I.L.L.S.E.E.K.E.R.” is another interlude that bridges to the conclusion, with cosmic blips and frosty energy. The 12:39 finale “S.T.A.R.S.E.E.K.E.R.” is vicious and warped right off the bat, and like the mammoth opener, it never lets you catch your breath. This track is total violence, with thrashing black metal fires raging, the approach feeling maniacal and unplanned, and you feeling psychologically battered once it’s all over. This is not a record your average metal listener will be able to handle. This is seriously mind-altering shit, and it’s a black metal record that will permanently burn a hole in your soul.

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Negura Bunget coverIt’s been five years since we’ve heard from Romanian atmospheric black metal band Negura Bunget as far as full-length efforts are concerned, but they’ve finally returned with “Tau,” their seventh record. Much has changed with the band over the years, from their sound growing more rustic to them shedding band members, but they remain a strong, captivating unit capable of making you want to take a long sojourn into the forest to help you reconnect with nature.

The band’s new record runs eight tracks and about 50 minutes, and varies in intensity and sound. For example, riveting opener “Nametenie” goes from acoustic flourishes and woodsy whistles to growly, grisly carnage, to psychedelic, panic-inducing theremin passages that’ll have you seeing ghosts. Yet something like “Curgerea muntelui” has a “Game of Thrones” style foggy opening, folk-flushed trudging, and a path that’ll make you think you’re on your way to an overnight camp out in front a legion of cookfires. Then there’s “Împodobeala timpului” that has a weirdly dancey setting, in the foresty type of way, with female vocals sweeping in, heavier thunder rocking the ground, and a really interesting atmosphere that feels like the sky is about the tear open. Granted, this record takes a little while to warm up, and it took me a couple of listens to really feel comfortable. But now that I do, it’s something I’ll be going back to very often in the future.

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Pelican coverTwo years ago, we got the most recent studio effort from Chicago instrumental warriors Pelican, that being the excellent “Forever Becoming.” One of the standout tracks on the album is “The Cliff,” and apparently the band also sees that as a key track as it’s the name of their new EP, where the song gets all kinds of new treatment. Now, a four-track EP where three of the tracks are the same song might not seem enticing to some. But you have to hear the music to understand why this is a really rewarding idea and why you definitely need this thing in your Pelican collection.

The first version is a notable one, because it features vocals for only the second time in the band’s history, provided by from Allen Epley (The Life & Times, Shiner), who also sang on “Final Breath” from 2009’s “What We All Come to Need.” Here, he dresses the song with his dark singing that makes you wonder if the song is supposed to be romantic or darkly obsessive (or a combo of the two). It’s a really interesting twist on the song, and you might have a hard time shaking it. The other two versions are remixes, one by Justin Broadrick, who stretches out the run time by adding plenty of echo, industrial sparks, and dark energy. He also keeps it an instrumental piece. Aaron Harris and Bryant C. Meyer (ISIS, Palms) treat the vocal version, washing out the singing and making it feel psychedelically detached, while adding a great deal of meaty power. Closer “The Wait” is a reflective, serene cut with moody guitars and strong emotion, making me hungry for whatever the band dreams up next. This is a pretty interesting treat that hopefully paves the way for Pelican’s next full-length.

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