Black metal barbarians Valdur smear more horror and terror on fire-tested ‘Divine Cessation’

There are bands that I often wonder why more people don’t talk about them. We live in an era when the internet can take a band, raise them up, and weeks later they’re selling tons of shit, and backlash campaigns already have started. But others just seem to plow away with what they do best while others take forever to come around.

Can we talk about Valdur already? This California-based death and black metal band has been going nearly two decades now, and fuck all, can we finally acknowledge their raucous catalog? Their new one is “Divine Cessation,” a record that greets us in December (maybe that’s the issue, late-year releases?) and unloads some devastating stuff that deserves to be lauded. Over seven tracks, the band unloads infernal riffs, smothering vocals, and hellish destruction that never steers you wrong and always does its best to hammer the hell out of you. We’ve long loved this band (we embraced 2013’s “Raven God Amongst Us” and 2015’s “Pathetic Scum”), yet the rest of the world hasn’t caught onto this yet. Maybe this will change as these guys—vocalist JF, guitarist Vuke, bassist William, drummer Matthew—continue delivering the good and make their evil ways as alluring as ever.

“Breath of the Beast” begins in ominous darkness before giving way to destructive growls and a slow-driving misery. The pace begins to blister as the guitars spiral and grim blackness spreads. That leads us to a strange, mystical end that flows into the massive title track. There, static blends into drubbing fury, as the growls grind, and the pace is super fluid. We get a dose of calm, and then things burst into utter chaos, as riffs reign, a terrifying tone takes over, and doom horns push to the end. “The Tail” winds into madness, with filthy riffing and slow-gurgling muck, as weird noises rise and take over, and the rattling bleeds into mauling hell. The song reopens and eats away at flesh, while the growls melt into earth, and violent destruction mesmerizes until the track’s massive end.

“Seething Disgust” pushes into disgusting waters, as grimy growls and a riff tornado lights your mind on fire. The drums begin to devastate while the guitars sicken and bring vertigo, and the band clobbers the shit out you as it winds its way to the finish. “Doomed” is a strange instrumental, a song that is built on galloping misery, mystical strangeness, and chilling horror. “Plague Born of a Dying Black Star” has guitars burning tires and the track tearing open in the bloodiest form possible. Chaotic growls (Sean “Psykho” Combat handles vocals on this one) and a monstrous assault get under way, while a demonic fury takes us into speed and torment. Doom spills in at the back end, while riffs tangle, and we get a sooty black metal finish. Closer “Potent Black Orb” is the weirdest track here, in the best way. Killer riffs and an assault that presses on your chest cavity make bad things happen, and then the band dominates with riffs you cannot battle against. The song smashes bones, but then electronic blips and beats rise, giving this a strange feeling. But it’s not over. That weird electronic haze remains, but riffs break through that, draw blood, and then give way to noise.

Valdur’s massive violence is bloody and real, and “Divine Cessation” is a record on which you should not sleep. It’s not going to redefine metal or carve a new path for black metal, but it at least should make you revel in their existence as they do good for their sound. This is a crushing band that deserves your respect, and it’s about time you paid it to them.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Psyche cultists Jess & the Ancient Ones embrace death’s arrival with ‘The Horse…’

Photo by Jarkko Pietarinen

Death is a dark, foreboding thing, the greatest of most of our fears, the portal into the unknown. No one knows what happens once we close our eyes for good, be that an immersion into a new plane of existence or just eternal nothingness. It’s grim, and it’s scary as hell.

Yet, for Jess and the Ancient Ones, death can sound so freeing and joyous. Never has that been more apparent than on their third full-length effort “The Horse and Other Weird Tales,” their second-consecutive record to drop right before the end of a year. On this nine-track, 35-minute new opus, the band gloriously and lavishly celebrates death in its many forms. From seeing it as a way to enter a new realm to exploring some of the Earth’s most captivating killers, the band finds a way to use its revival-style psychedelics sound to lather your mind with thoughts of the end but also invite you to think of it as a release, a way to live again in the beyond. The band—vocalist Jess, guitarist and primary songwriter Thomas Corpse, bassist Fast Jake, drummer Jussuf, and keys/organ player Abraham—sweeps you up in their colorful world, and while most artists who revel in this subject inundate you with brutality, Jess and the Ancient Ones would rather lather you in melody and alluring darkness, hoping to bring you into the arms of the cult.

“Death is the Doors” opens the record with weird organs pulsating and the always-engaging Jess calling, “Death, please come to us.” The psyche wash heads into spirited claps and a weird doom groove as the song fades away. “Shining” sounds like total hippie stuff, in the best possible way, as Jess warns, “She burns for you.” All elements swirl, as the guitars go on a soul journey, and the calls of death intertwined with love give the song a rushing finish. “Your Exploding Heads,” from its title, seems like it would be Cannibal Corpse levels of gory. Instead, it’s insanely catchy as it runs into trippy rock, driving, burly basslines, and a simple chorus designed for lusty callbacks live. “You and Eyes” runs a little over seven minutes, and the first section is a ballad, with keys fluttering, and Jess digging deep into her heart. We’re then off into sunbursts and fog, with Jess wailing, “Have my body! Have my soul!” The song later sinks into synth sweeps and steam, as the words of British philosopher Alan Watts work their way into your brain. The back end brings a group celebration before rounding to the slower, tender parts that introduced the song.

“Radio Aquarius” is a quick instrumental interlude that resets the pace and takes us into “Return to Hallucinate” where the synth sounds like it originated in outer space, and Jess admits, “I never cared for reality, I just want to fly.” The guitars blaze and send smoke, while the massive chorus fills your bones with dark energy. “(Here Comes) the Rainbow Mouth” is a pretty weird one, as the up-tempo playing and the jagged guitars set the stage for the drama and Jess declaring, “She is the rainbow mouth!” The track trances out, while the chorus bends back again, and we’re turned to ash by the fiery end. “Minotaure” begins with snorts and a great beast stamping before delirious keyboards, buzzing bass, and melodies create a tidal wave. Jess sings of the woes of the creature as the band delivers blistering keys and a rollicking path. Closer “Anyway the Minds Flow” centers on John Lennon’s killer Mark David Chapman and his intertwining life that was wrapped up in J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye.” Quotes about him and Chapman’s voice itself flow through this 7:57 song about the troublesome man, as the song feels like a psychedelic dream at times, with Jess howling over the madness,  organs and harpsicord mixing together, and the track feeling pained and ominous simultaneously, bringing the record to a mystifying end.

Jess and the Ancient Ones are more on the outer edges of metal, but they’ve always had a huge place in our hearts, no matter what they create. “The Horse and Other Weird Tales” is another enchanting chapter from this band that was only hand-picked by King Diamond to support his U.S. tour a few years back. This band will take you to dark corners you previously dreaded and leave you feeling renewed, revitalized, and even hungry for your worst fears to come true.

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Morbid Angel reshuffle ranks, put past transgressions behind them with ‘Kingdoms Disdained’

Everyone does dumb shit. One time at the beach, I drank so many Palo Santos that I shit my pants on the sidewalk right into a fresh new pair of boxer briefs that I had to throw away in the restroom of an Italian restaurant while a really band stand-up comedian was dying alive on stage. Basically, we all have moments of which we’re not proud.

We all know about Morbid Angel’s last record, the universally reviled “Illud Divinum Insanus.” It was their version of uncontrollable liquid stool demanding it splash its way onto your new boxer briefs you totally really liked and fit you so well. But Morbid Angel are absolute death metal royalty, legends walking among us, so we can forgive one really, really bad record. We can flush that thing because these guys gave us “Altars of Madness,” “Blessed Are the Sick,” “Covenant,” and even “Heretic,” an album that we’ll get back to in a bit. These are touchstones that cannot be touched and helped build the foundation for death metal as a whole. But here we are, five years after “that which shall not be named again,” and we have a reshuffled Morbid Angel lineup and a new record “Kingdoms Disdained.” Oh, we didn’t skip J in the A-Z album naming. The J went to live album “Juvenilia,” so everyone stop whining. On this new 11-track record, we have a mix of Morbid royalty as Steve Tucker is back on vocals and bass, replacing David Vincent. He ruled on aforementioned “Heretic,” and he does here as well. Guitar wizard Trey Azagthoth remains, as he should forever, and they’re joined by new recruits Dan Vadim Von (guitars) and Scott Fuller (drums) who more than hold their own on this record that will make fucking awesome. That’s actually all you need to know.

“Piles of Little Arms” gets the record started, and it’s arguably the strongest track on here. Trudging death, grisly growls, and a stabbing pace both infuses the track with violence and gets your juices going. “D.E.A.D.” has guitars swirling and vocals crushing, and the guitar lines even get a little zany in spots. “We’ve come to wipe this planet clean!” Tucker wails as the track rips out your guts. “Garden of Disdain” lets guitars roll out of control, as the track heads right into the mud and delivers crunchy punishment. The song scrapes and steamrolls, as Tucker wails of the Sumerian gods he invokes on this record who fear they’re “dismissed and long forgotten.” “The Righteous Voice” is bloody and wild, with the growls menacing and the melodies being mashes into the dirt, as the leads blare and cut to the bone. “Architect and Iconoclast” is grim and slow driving, putting the assault into a mean, meats-and-potatoes type of approach. “I am prophecy fulfilled!” Tucker wails, once again pulling on the gods of old.

“Paradigms Warped” begins a stretch of songs that revel in a little bit of same-ness, making the second half a little slower. They’re not bad songs, but they kind of blend together. On “Warped,” a thick bassline and clubbing playing accompany Tucker, who is demanding demons be released. “The Pillars Crumbling” is smothering and grisly, as the death growls grind bones, the leads burst in, and a brief coolness precedes lava-splashed guitars. “Fear No Master” is savage, nasty, and abrasive, causing brush burns to mar the flesh and the leads going off, adding lightning to a song that shares personality with the couple that came before it. “Declaring New Law” also falls into that same tar pit, as Tucker, in the voice of the old Sumerian souls, takes on doubt anyone holds for their presence. “Erase them!” he howls, as the soloing tears toward the end. “From the Hand of Kings” changes the pace for good, as the song is fast and sudden, heavy punishment is meted out, and even a psychological edge cuts through, adding a level of weirdness. “The Fall of Idols” caps off the record with a fast, menacing gallop, as the track cuts into bone, and the harsh growls amplify the violence. The guitar work boils over as the song winds down, and everything comes to a damaging, screeching end.

Morbid Angel are back on this devastating record “Kingdoms Disdained.” It’s not an all-time classic, but it’s definitely a solid entry into their unquestionable catalog that has ruled for decades and will forever. Yeah, they fucked up. Like you’re so perfect. But this album is not just righting the ship, it’s directing that thing back toward a bloody battle in which they can have some deciding power.

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Mysterious Swiss project DSKNT brings noise, nightmarish blaze to first effort ‘PhSPHR Entropy’

Black metal is meant to be chaotic and immersed in everlasting darkness. Not that it can’t be played in different ways (clearly it already has been), but the more morbid and terrifying it is translated, the more it feels like it feeds from the roots of the music’s origins. If you feel like your soul has been devoured when it’s all over, you know it’s been done right.

There’s a mysterious force from Switzerland that has thrown a bloodied cleaver into the ring in the form of DSKNT, a one-man unit shrouded in mystery that has a devastating debut collection ready for consumption after the first crack of December. “PhSPHR Entropy” is a six-track demolition that stands as this project’s first messages to the rest of the world. This band exists under the DSKNT Industry banner, a place where a myriad of projects and music is housed under a single, terrifying roof. You can read more about that on your own, as we don’t really have time to parse it out here, so let’s concentrate on what this scary production has to offer. The music is penetrating and heavy as hell, and twisted into the DNA are bizarre bursts of noise that increase the danger and psychological scarring. It’s a record that is best taken on in a single, brutal sitting, where each inch of these songs can infect your bloodstream.

“Exhaling Dust” tears open the record as deep death growls rupture under the surface, and a sprawling, strange tempo sets up and lasts pretty much unchanged over the body of this 8:24 smasher. A dizzying fog enters and causes disorientation, while the track crushes in place, burns off all the leftover fuel, and slips into oblivion. “S.O.P.O.R.” also ignites right away, as harsh growls mix with heavy-duty thrashing that will do damage simply by coming out of your headphones. Darkness continues to unfurl like a permanent nighttime, as the pace slows a bit and lets doom sink in, and the vocals scrape the already damaged flesh. A weird soundscape spills as the drums devastate, wild cries and gurgles blend, and the song heads into a cloud of interference and madness that rolls into “Kr. Vy. Rites,” a short instrumental that opens the door to a different type of nightmare, one that comes to full fruition a few minutes later.

“Kr. Vy. Portals” is the second leg of that terror, as monstrous growls and a painfully slow-mauling pace sets up shop and begins burying bodies. The beastly menace lasts from the first to last second, as the guitars chew big, bloody holes, the assault keeps uncoiling and striking, and the whole thing disappears into space. “Resurgence of Primordial Void Aperture” has smashing chugging at the front end, a stretch that, arguably, is the heaviest portion of the record. From there, hissed growls mix with vicious terror, as the punishing pace looks to squeeze the life from your lungs. The guitars set up and dig out mounds of flesh, while the growls get uglier and deadlier, and the track dissolves into a noise bath that sizzles and shocks the senses. The title track closes the affair, a 9:32-long song that starts suddenly and turns your skull to powder. The music penetrates and brings on panic before a calm approaches, hinting to things changing. Out of that, demonic howls and sharp riffs cut through again, as the track burns out on misery-inducing growls and a tidal wave of black static.

This vicious, mysterious record contains a ton of intrigue and several sub-levels of danger. DSKNT manages to make this style of music even blacker, and “PhSPHR Entropy” contains so many layers, that there may not be a way to fully understand everything going on with these songs, even if you had years. This is a charred, warped album, one that will slice you open and fill you with infection.

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SubRosa show entirely new side of their dynamic, emotional art with ‘Subdued Live at Roadburn’

Roadburn is one of the great annual destination festivals in all heavy music, a sentence that might be the most obvious in this site’s history. The event takes place every spring in the Netherlands, and it has become a who’s who of amazing bands that have taken their stage and delivered unforgettable performances, often released in physical form for the buying public, many who couldn’t be there.

There is no secret one of this site’s favorite bands is Salt Lake City-based doom quintet SubRosa, and really, they’re much more than just a representative of that subgenre. They’ve been making some of the most emotional, imaginative, gripping music in all of metal, and their last record “For This We Fought the Battle of Ages” was our No. 1 record of last year. Their inclusion at Roadburn makes a ton of sense, and this past year, they delivered a set that not many people outside their hometown ever have witnessed. The “SubRosa Subdued” performances find them pulling back and delivering more musically subtle versions of their work, and their seven-song set is being released on CD and digitally, with a vinyl version due out in March. If you’re a fan of the band, this is a must-hear set, a presentation of their powerful songs that, while still holding that edge, take on an entirely different personality.

Usually we go track by track on album reviews, but it seems weird in the case of a live record. Instead, let’s concentrate on what makes this thing so good, which is the dynamic quality of their playing and the delivery that makes you digest these songs in an entirely new way. Opener “Whippoorwill” is one of my favorite songs by the band, and to hear it in this environment is like getting to know it all over again. Guitarist/vocalist Rebecca Vernon calling, “I know there’s no turning back,” sounds sadder, more vulnerable under these circumstances, and when she pulls back on her singing, it makes the ambiance more reflective. “Borrowed Time Borrowed Eyes” swells with Kim Pack’s and Sarah Pendleton’s strings, and Andy Patterson’s work echoes as if off the side of cave walls, which is the same case for “Cosey Mo,” where the chorus gets weightier for the added quiet to Vernon’s desperate calls.

“Sugar Creek,” the opening track from their debut “Strega,” gets a chance to shine under the spotlight, which is great because not enough people seem to pay attention to that record. Perhaps having that included here will get people to dig back into that one. Same goes for “Mirror,” a track from their 2006 demo “The Worm Has Turned” that gets an even more folk-flourished treatment than the original, and it really shines here, especially as a sonic change of pace before the incredible “No Safe Harbor,” the album closer on “More Constant Than the Gods.” This one stands as a final chance for the band to display why they’re such a special act and why seeing them live is an absolute must, even if you’re on the fence about the band. You won’t be once you witness them in the flesh.

This record is a perfect addition to anyone’s SubRosa collection, especially considering most people hearing this will be experiencing this approach for the first time. “Subdued Live at Roadburn” not only is notable for how unique it is, but it’s also one of the best live Roadburn releases, which is saying something in that it’s a healthy catalog of great stuff. This performance is perfect for a night in, with the blinds drawn, a dark ale, and nothing for you to worry about other than emotional absorption.

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PICK OF THE WEEK: Chaos Moon’s weird, cosmic black metal gets raw edge on ‘Eschaton Memoire’

It seems at least once a year, some batshit weird group comes out and declares that the end of the world is near due to some mathematical formula or bastardized Bible passages. The date is declared, it passes, nothing happens, and everyone goes back to their lives. Yet, one day, humanity will come to an end, whether it’s gradually or suddenly.

Philadelphia-based black metal band Chaos Moon seem to want to hit the acceleration pedal on the whole thing, as they weave and dream of the end of humankind in their music. On the band’s fourth record “Eschaton Memoire,” they pave a path of death, foreseeing the end times in as violent a manner as possible and seeing the scorched earth as a killing field that leaves no one unscathed. The five-track, 41-minute record is violent psychologically, but there are other elements mixed into their style that make them spookier and spacier. The music gets into your bloodstream and causes you to see visions and Apocalyptic horror that, while it’s tearing the earth apart, is so fascinating you must watch everything burn to the ground. The band—Eric Baker (vocals), Alex Poole (guitars and atmosphere), Steven Blackburn (guitars and atmosphere), and Jack Blackburn (drums)—elevates what they accomplished on the excellent 2014 record “Resurrection Extract” and everything that preceded it and rips out one of the most fascinating black metal records this year.

“The Pillar, The Fall, and The Key (I)” plunges the record into dark eeriness, as the music takes hold and makes it feel like you’re gazing into a freezing midnight sky. Blackness erupts, while wild shrieks send glass flying, and the shadows get darker and more dangerous. The guitars then soar into space and toward the stars, bleeding into “The Pillar, The Fall, and The Key (II)” that sinks into unexpectedly moody playing. Crazed growls and wild shrieks mix and lead the way, while the sound continues to dash past planets, the power bristles again, and the music crushes for a final stretch before trickling away. “Of Wrath and Forbidden Wisdom” is a beast at 10:22, slowly simmering in echoes and weirdness before the cloud coverage spreads, and the storm saturates the earth. Harsh growls and mesmerizing melodies do their part to confound, while the pain builds, and the music blisters away. Melody swims and goes serene before the flood gates reopen and begin filling everything with misery. “Stench of death fills the air!” Baker growls, while the guitars immerse your being, and the song gives way to mercy.

“Eschaton Mémoire (I)” starts in a synth fog before it begins punching its way out, and Baker’s vocals start tearing holes in the surroundings. The band brings thick darkness, as the song turns raw and vicious, nodding toward the roots of black metal and tending to the chaotic fires. The track then steers into a cold fog, as keys blend into the hellish visions, and then it sails into the 13:56 second half and closer “Eschaton Mémoire (II).” Massive shrieks penetrate as the music cascades, and the band then brings a sonic stampede, which begins to speed up dangerously. The pace pummels, while the vocals wrench, and then things cool off and allow you to gather a breath. But that’s not for long, as the onslaught renews, and the storm spreads its reach. The violence remains persistent but slowly dissolves into the mud, while noise hovers, a space haze darkens your vision, and the nightmare spirals away.

Chaos Moon’s vision of the end is a harrowing, imaginative one, even if that includes all human flesh being burned to a crisp. “Eschaton Memoire” is an excellent record that provides different pathways into your mind with every visit and is as mentally stimulating as it is violent. This is a powerful document, the last great black metal record of the year.

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Genevieve’s brain-mangling fire continues to morph, warp minds with devastating ‘Regressionism’

We don’t mind a challenge, and if we’re being really honest here, we don’t see a whole lot of them these days. When they arrive, the music that twists our brains into weird shapes and makes odd juices flow through our pores are very welcome as the end of the year has us in a seasonal malaise.

Maryland-based destroyers Genevieve are back with their genre-bastardizing new record “Regressionism,” which, if we’re being honest, is a silly name for this six-track beast. The band and the music are doing anything but regressing. They’re pushing their craft forward and mixing whatever elements of extreme metal they have hanging around their bloody tool bench. Black metal, doom, noise, drone all is packed into this thing, though that’s only touching the basics of what makes up this flattening album. The band—Eric Rhodes (bass VI, vocals, acoustic guitar, cello), Keith Mathias (acoustic and electric bass guitars, vocals), Mike Apicella (acoustic and electric guitars), Christian Wetmore (electric guitar), and Matt Powel (drums)—displays mind-blowing ability but doesn’t just show off their skills. The songs are dynamic and incredibly brutal, thought provoking and painfully savage, always keeping you wondering where the hell they’re going next. As strong as their 2015 debut “Escapism” is, this adds so many twists to their game, you’re better off giving in and getting swallowed alive.

“Smoke” starts off with clean playing and noises beginning to rattle, giving off a psychedelic vibe, and then clean warbling enters the fray, making things feel bizarre. Then the track is torn ass to mouth, as the words are scream-sung, crazed wails pelt behind that, and the tension mounts before whirring away. “The Judge” is a 9:27 pounder that trudges and punishes right away before shrieks and growls join the mix, and dizzying patterns start down a path from which your mental well-being cannot return. Deranged violence and delirious chaos make for a volatile team, but then things fade into calm, with elegant guitars trickling. The storm then returns, with maniacal yelps damaging, the band demolishing with desperation, and the track coming to a weird, blistering end. “Wind Chimes” then comes in, a quick instrumental built with acoustics, cellos quaking, and the track entering an echo chamber.

“No for an Answer” is dark and sinewy, with the song erupting out of the shadows. Things ignite as growls begin to chew at the nerves, the growls mix in their menace, and the pace crashes and confounds. Total insanity comes in from there, as melodic guitars spread, strangeness cracks through the surface, and odd howls of, “I have swallowed you whole,” rush to the utterly crushing end. “William Blake” is the longest track, stretching over 10:55 and making sure the sounds simmer. Grim growls head into obliteration, while a savage attack commences, and the pace leaves you breathless. Doomy melodies sink into waters before the tempo relents, and a breezy sensation is unleashed, unexpectedly cooling the skin. That leads to a nice, lengthy psychedelic passage that weaves its way back to the explosives, where the track enters an industrial haze. Voices cry behind the madness, while piercing screams and a killer charge bring the song to its end. Closer “Regression Schism” begins with cold guitars that explode with fire mere moments into the cut. The growls gurgle blood and mud as the track enters total chaos. A weird jazzy section interjects, making the surroundings feel surreal, but then a jerky section of playing punches away, and the growls explode. One final stretch of all-around trickery, massive thrashing, and horrifying screams draw this panic-inducing display to an end.

I’m several listens into “Regressionism,” and I still don’t know what to make of all of this. Genevieve keep morphing into a bigger, stranger monster, and their work here is enthralling and confounding. It’s nice to have a baffling puzzle to tackle when putting on a record, and this one will have you working overtime until your brain melts.

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