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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Death legends Incantation find way back to original home with smothering opus ‘Profane Nexus’

There aren’t a whole lot of homecoming stories when it comes to the metal world. It’s a scene that just doesn’t lend itself to that kind of thing a whole lot. Yeah, we had Dickinson rejoin Maiden and Halford back with Priest, but those stories are ages old now that they’re distant history.

After years away from their primary home, Incantation have found their way back to Relapse as vicious and devastating as ever with their new record “Profane Nexus.” Having delivered their first three genre-toppling death platters on Relapse, including all-time classic “Onward to Golgotha” in 1992, Incantation return a different, yet no less violent machine. The band has shed band members like some people shed cells, but guitarist/vocalist John McEntee (a goddamn fixture in the crowd at any metal show in Pittsburgh worth its salt) remains from the original lineup, and around him are beasts including longtime drummer Kyle Severn, guitarist Sonny Lombardozzi, and bassist Chuck Sherwood. This unholy quartet bursts with hellish life on these 11 tracks, spreading their brand of doom-encrusted death metal chaos over nearly 43 minutes of punishment.

“Muse” is a mauling, gurgling opener, with McEntee growling infernally along with guitars that make you go dizzy, and eventually a pace that feels like a zombie walk. Later, the track ignites again, as the band tears at the flesh and prepares you for “Rites of the Locust.” There, the track stomps through the mud while guitars spill over the chorus, guttural, ugly vocals spit blood, and the track comes to a mad, thrashing end. “Visceral Hexahedron” is ominous from the start and pours doom tar, as the tempo grinds slowly, and the rhythm section bashes your skull. Brief ignitions always lead back to the painful dragging over cinders, as mean growls and disorientation bring things to a merciful end. “The Horns of Gefrin” has guitars spiraling and a manic assault delivered, as the vocals strangle, and the song chugs heavily. The music simmers in carnage before the hammers are dropped on skulls. “Incorporeal Despair” churns and squeezes, with eerie guitars dripping, gritty growling, and what feels like a true horror soundtrack reaching out its arms and pulling you into hell.

“Xipe Totec” is shockingly short at 1:08, but it blasts its way in and does ample damage while it lasts. The track is an explosive gasp, as guitars squeal in pain, and the band lets out total demolition. “Lus Sepulcri” trudges and blazes at the same time, as tormenting vocals and a war-torn approach level you. The soloing melts all over, burning flesh, while the back end has a thrashy, animalistic vibe. “Stormgate Convulsions From the Thunderous Shores of Infernal Realms Beyond the Grace of God” takes a long time to say but not as much to absorb, as it’s a short instrumental built on weird space fuzz and sci-fi-style noise, and that leads into “Messiah Nostrum” that mixes doom and psychedelics, a strong outburst that has twisted growls and guitars giving off amazing heat. The song stomps over its final minutes, ending in a lake of mud. “Omens to the Altar of Onyx” lands heavy lefts and rights, a chewy as fuck track that again takes you down doomy passages. Growls choke, while the guitars work together to sicken, with the track coming to a crushing finish. “Ancients Arise” finishes the album on a slow-rolling, eerie assault, with the bulk of the song pulverizing the senses, and the marching done with cement shoes. The track is meaty and thrashy for the bulk of it, giving this record a drubbing end.

Incantation prove on their 11th record that the death flames still rage within their hearts, and they aren’t anywhere near being extinguished. “Profane Nexus” is a satisfying, blistering record from one of death’s all-time greats, a band that has set the pace for the genre the past 30 years and continue to be worthy contributors. We must hold these bands close while we have them with us, and the fact Incantation is back to their original spawning point only serves to make this opus that much bloodier and fitting.

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Retooled Lifetime Shitlist bring thrashy hardcore assault with aggravated new EP ‘Slow March’

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Feeling miserable has become a theme as of late. Things feel like they’re on a malaise autopilot as the news keeps getting worse, and the worst people of all time continue to rear their disgusting little heads. Has there ever been a better time for angry music that hits the nail right on its rusty head?

So, it’s a perfect opening for new music from Baltimore hardcore/thrash unit Lifetime Shitlist, and they’re back with their pummeling new EP “Slow March.” From the grim cover art to the songs that greet you on this seven-track basher, you can feel their frustration and nausea as well, and they make for good company during these lousy times. Ever since their last release “Pneumaticon,” Lifetime Shitlist have retooled their lineup, adding a second guitarist Corey Fleming and replacing Dave Pennington on vocals with the mighty Ned Westrick. Guitarist Matt Crocco, bassist Ryan Larkin, and drummer Bryan Glaeser remain the round out what’s now a more formidable version of the band, one that sounds like it’s ready to spread its mission to even more people.

“Cabal” tears the lid off the record as noise waves pave the path for chunky guitar chugs and disorienting melodies before the tempo starts to destroy, and gruff wails from Westrick settle into the mix. The track is crunchy and mean, with the band mixing thrash and hardcore seamlessly, and a final dose of sound slips over a diatribe about domestic counterterror policies. “Beach of Death” bashes its way open, with gruff vocals and thickening guitars threatening. Menacing shouts and a bludgeoning pace leaves everything in the dust. “Infestation” has thick basslines and riffs chewing at raw meat, while Westrick howls about removing one’s head from the sand and taking up torches. Southern-style guitars thicken the soloing, while Westrick howls about being “alive for the very first time.”

“Death Rattle” begins with guitars that give off a rad ’80s vibe, only to have thrashy riffs punch gigantic holes in the wall and barge into the scene. Some wah pedal damage curves the melodies, and then the guitars take on a thick, smoky stoner vibe. For the back end of the song, the band goes back to bristling crunching, doing some miserable bruising. “Heavy Gravitation” is fast, grimy, and gruff, with the guitar work turning everything to splinters, and the band splattering chaos. “Slow March” is calculated and rough, with barked vocals and cold harshness. As the story goes on, the heaviness continues to multiply, and the track has a fiery finish. “God of Storms” brings the record to an end, as bass and guitars circle and clash, and a nasty hardcore vibe is achieved. The low end is forceful and devastating, while the roars are menacing, and the song has an unforgiving end.

Lifetime Shitlist are compiling an impressive resume over their relatively short run together, and “Slow March” is a collection showing a band that is realizing its powers. These songs are urgent, angry, and volatile, and this is one record where fans of metallic and hardcore circles should be able to come together for a bloody night. This is heavy, violent stuff, and it’ll leave you good and maimed.

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Phylactery head into full beast mode as they unleash thrashy fire on ‘Necromancy Enthroned’

Metal is the music of great beasts, and I don’t think there is anyone who could deny that. We have Behemoths and Mastodons making music, the devil’s shit is all over this stuff, and any type of overgrown, disgusting giant is easy fodder for fantasy-style lyrics or for colorful album artwork that, if displayed in a store, should stand out.

But what about music that sounds like it was made by beasts? Edmonton death/thrash unit Phylactery has that element covered on their devastating debut record “Necromancy Enthroned.” If I was told that this music was made by four creatures with hooved feet and horns protruding from their skulls, I wouldn’t exactly bat an eye. These 11 songs are punishing and deadly, easily stuff that could be deemed beyond the reach of mortal men and into the world of monsters. Alas, it’s but three guys—vocalist/drummer K.T., guitarist T.G., and bassist J.M.—making this hellacious noise, and their riff-heavy, nasty approach makes these things sometimes feel like it’s all flowing into one bloody stew. It’s easy to lose track over this nearly 35-minute punishment session, as your skull is bounced from wall to floor, like you’re being attacked by Skeletor during one of his more potent assaults. Not that it’s a bad thing.

“Risen Restless Dead” kicks off the madness with charging riffs and menacing growls, as K.T. demands his minions to, “Rise!” Clean playing streams in momentarily before everything fires up again suddenly and then heads toward “Wisdom of Heretics,” where strong guitars and thrash violence meet you and head right for the throat. The vocals sound delivered by a manic goblin out for blood, as the words are spat with venom, as K.T. demands you, “Die!” “Fulminations” has a satisfying, almost nostalgic old school thrash bend to it, as the song speeds ahead, and K.T. howls, “We will devour your name!” The basslines give black eyes, as the track comes to a furious end. “Morbid Existence” pulls no punches, as it’s a fast blast complete with raspy growls and chugging riffs. The assault remains mean and channeled throughout, as K.T. wails, “Die and die again!” to hammer home their ill intent. “King of Ruin” is another blistering attack, where nasty growls rip at the flesh, and guitars stab every vulnerable spot.

“Where I Dwell” has drums rumbling through the gates, guitars chewing muscle, and growls lurking mysteriously under the surface. “Enslaved by the Dawn” is calculated and vicious, as the bass rollicks underneath the din, the growls threaten lives, and a sudden shift change toward the end sends the song into a mad gallop. “Eyes of Fear and Flame” has drums rolling in and clobbering bodies, while the riffs send blinding lightning, and K.T.’s growls sound delivered from a throat lacerated by war cries. Every bit of this is fast and aiming to take your breath from your lungs. “Bubonic Undeath” fades in from the darkness before exploding outright. From there, it’s a death march, as the growls sound like they’re gurgling through blood, and some classic metal flourishes are tacked on for good measure. “Unholy Empire” rips apart, as it’s fast and gnarly, with the vocals unleashing grit. Their thrashing is well meted out, reddening the skin, and some evil-sounding chuckles and a bashing finish add pain and take you into closing cut “Eat of My Disease.” As you can deduce from the title, things are misery inducing and disgusting, as the vocals scrape along and the guitars trudge heavily. “Humankind is made in our image, born just to die!” K.T. growls as the song rounds it way to its mashing finish.

Phylactery’s music is made by monsters for people who want to be terrified of what’s coming out of their speakers. These guys give you exactly that on “Necromancy Enthroned,” an ugly, devastating platter of songs that fly by in an instant but still leave ample bruising. Nothing here is pretty. It’s all blood, puss, and broken bones, just the way thrash and death are meant to be.

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