Fen dig up roots while pushing universe of black metal with riveting mammoth opus ‘Winter’

At first, this week seemed like a terribly unfitting time to have a visit with winter. February was unseasonably warm around here, so much so that trees and plants started to bloom. But before we knew it, the coldness returned with a vengeance, and winter has us in its sights this week as it prepares to lay waste to the East Coast of the United States.

So, it turns out the timing was perfect to visit with “Winter,” the stunning new record from English black metal band Fen, who are one of the most ambitious and thought-provoking bands in the sub-genre. Seeing that this is the English three piece’s fifth record, the band—bassist/vocalist Grungyn, guitarist/vocalist The Watcher, drummer Havenless—decided to go back and dig up their roots that initially fed this great machine. At the same time, they also have branched out their sound even more, incorporating prog, doom, and atmospheric shoegaze into their sound, creating a greater, fuller Fen. That transformation backward and forward is very apparent on these five songs and generous 75 minutes in run time, easily their beefiest release to date. If you’ve been along for the ride since 2009’s “The Malediction Fields” or just caught on with 2014’s “Carrion Skies,” you’re bound to enjoy and overindulge in this journey that just bursts at the seams with goodness.

The mammoth “I (Pathway)” starts the record, a 17:08 epic that begins in the midst of cold guitars, gazey melodies, and the call of, “All will fall,” sung almost solemnly. From there, the pace picks up, as roars explode, and the band heads into grisly, yet proggy, terrain. Later, strains of elegant playing stream down, while black metal chaos rips from that, with wrenching growls scathing before the song trickles out in a dose of calm. “II (Penance)” jars you right away as it tears away at the senses. Harsh growls and compelling playing light the way, while a prog-fueled bassline bubbles, and a dose of crunch ends up in watery strangeness. Out of that, the cut explodes again, with odd voices warbling, the rhythms pulsating, and the track burning away with intensity. “III (Fear)” has the bass flowing into a hazy atmosphere, letting the song set its temperature and slowly build itself. Once the track unloads, harsh wails and constantly changing tempos greet you and push you in multiple directions. As the cut progresses, the band crushes hard, the song washes over what it destroyed, and a hugely melodic ending sends final sparks flying.

“IV (Interment)” runs a hefty 14:52, and it starts cleanly, almost beautifully, as if serenity is about to stretch itself. Hulking charging then emerges, with vocals that soar over the din, and then growls and punishment meet and tear things apart. The track has times where it’s both airy and vicious, with the call of, “I have nothing left to give,” hitting home and swelling your chest. From there, the drums decimate, destruction explodes, and the cut comes to a calculated finish. “V (Death)” is another monster at 12:41, and it’s flooded into from “IV,” leaving it simmering in a sound bath before all is blown to bits. The playing is as strong as anything else on the record, as a tidal wave of emotion surges and becomes the dominant trait. Some gothy parts are mixed into the stew, while melodic steam, further adventures into prog, and a conversion from savagery into beauty is smeared over the song’s back end. Closer “VI (Sight)” has a soothing beginning, with a synth cloud hovering overhead, sax notes drifting, and the song fully blooming about halfway through. Clean singing and thorny growling mix together, as strains of death metal rear their ugly head. The final moments of the song do nothing to soothe any wounds, as the intensity and barbaric fury leave a litany of gashes and blood streaks.

Winter may be ready to loosen its grip on us at some point, but Fen are making sure that frigidity lasts a little longer with this massive record. “Winter” is recommended to be a full-album experience, which asks a sacrifice of your time, but that journey’s ultimately worth it. Fen’s world keeps expanding by leaps and bounds, resulting in a spoil of riches for anyone who consumes their music.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://www.auralwebstore.com/shop/index.php

For more on the label, go here: http://www.code666.net/

Noisy Celestial Bodies mount horrifying sound war as gods clash on ‘Spit Forth From Chaos’

There are those bands that people seem to either love or hate, with practically no one falling in between. Rush, for example. I love them with all my heart, but I have friends who despise them as fully I love the Canadian power trio. But I get it. It’s hard to find middle ground on something so unique.

That is bound to be the fate that greets Celestial Bodies, a group that combines members of Nihill and Dead Neanderthals. This duo is ready to unleash one of the strangest, noisiest abominations in some time with “Spit Forth From Chaos,” a record that imagines a cosmic war pitting the deities Absu and Tiamat (not the bands, mind you) against the horrible forces they released into the world. The record sounds like a clash of the gods, one that’s fought with chainsaws, machinery, and uncontrollable violence most could not even dream. There certainly is a basis in black metal, but the grinding noise that mixes with it isn’t totally out of bounds from the current darkwave movement. Much of the album sounds like it’s crafted by intergalactic motorcycles running on engines not even invented yet on our planet. It’s bound to excite as many as it nauseates, and there likely could be a great war between those who embrace it and those who reject it.

The terror begins with “The Final Covenant,” where beast-like howls and bizarre noises meld to begin the vortex of madness. This sounds like complete chaos, as if machines are chewing through scenery, and that pushes toward “The Nazarene Bastard Crowned” that is a short blast but a relentless hellscape during its entire run time. “Burning Trident” has drums barreling toward the gates and noises scraping and swirling. The track bathes in total strangeness, with a wail of, “My light is your darkness!” penetrating the mind. “Destroyer of Aeons” has an odd wave of synth at its front end, with wild howls and tortured cries crushing any hope of peace. Static mounts like a swarm, met by the cry of, “Your world is falling to pieces!” “Return to the Endless Void” has synth sprawl grinding away, more noise swelling, and a vocal assault that leaves bruising. It sounds like an arcade of damnation over its run, blasting its way toward “Sign of the Wolf.” There, the storms settle overhead as gruff growls punch, and a furious rant smothers and demolishes, leaving you running for cover.

“Chaos of Infinity” has drums igniting, weird mechanical guitars chewing away, and the vocals sounding as if they’re emitting pure pain. Some of this music is Tron-like, futuristic and claustrophobic, settling alongside a heaping helping of death. “Kingdom of Black Torment” has drums clashing with noise horror, as strange synth flows in and makes a weird soup, and complete insanity burns out of control, bringing with it alien-like power. “No Place to Hide” doesn’t stay long, but while it’s here, it brings drums pulsating and keys streaking blood, setting the stage for “Reflections of Ain Soaf.” “Tonight, we sacrifice!” is howled, as chilling keys and trickling music slowly pool and make travel dangerous. The shout of, “It’s time to die!” should shake you to your guts, and if it doesn’t, the music will. Finally, “Towards Perdition” caps the record, a 5:44-long bruiser built with quivering synth, space invaders-style attacks, plunder, and the declaration, “We spill the blood on the altar!” as the track disappears into mystery.

Celestial Bodies’ noise war is one that’s going to get people caught in its gears as it grinds them into bloody piles of meat. “Spit Forth From Chaos” isn’t going to be for everyone. It’s audibly offensive and purposely abrasive. Those who like that kind of thing (and I am one of them) will absorb these sounds into them and, along with that, recreate the unholy battle of the gods in their minds.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/shop/

For more on the label, go here: http://i-voidhanger.com/

PICK OF THE WEEK: Woe’s scathing black metal blasts at faith, fear on firebreathing ‘Hope Attrition’

Photo by Samantha Marble

As black metal continues to add to its ranks and, admittedly take on a shit load of water, a return from one of the masters is a welcome thing. And so we have Woe rising back up to reclaim their rightful place among the sub-genre’s finest by creating a firestorm of an album only they can pull off.

“Hope Attrition” is the band’s fourth album and first in four years, since 2013’s great “Withdrawal,” and with that time has come a bit of change. The ranks have shuffled again, as longtime creator and leader Chris Grigg (guitars, vocals) and bassist Grzesiek Czapla (he’s also handled drums and guitars in the past for the band) now is joined by guitarist/vocalist Matt Mewton and drummer extraordinaire Lev Weinstein to round out this vicious new lineup. Another shift is with their old home Candlelight Records essentially deceased, they’ve caught on with the awesome Vendetta Records to release this new platter, which is filled with vitriol, spite, anger, disillusionment, and any other emotion that can rot your insides. The band is absolutely on fire, with Grigg sounding like his growls and shrieks are here to wake up a world that long has been lulled to sleep.

“Unending Call of Woe” is an ideal starting place, as riffs charge up, and the first part of the track unravels in a calculating pace. But then the song whips into gear, with Grigg howling, “This is a failure, and every wretched word is broken!” as things go off the rails and enter high speed. Grigg’s vocals go from virulent growl to mad shriek, as the band keeps crunching, guitars boil, and the song bleeds away. “No Blood Has Honor” is a firestorm, as the band rips away, and an assault on blind faith and the ramifications of fear spit from Grigg’s mouth. “When you close your eyes, how do you close your eyes? What could you know about honor?” Grigg stabs, as a blistering assault unfolds, and the whole thing comes to a hellacious end. “A Distant Epitaph” is an acoustic-tinged instrumental that is a needed comedown after what preceded it, and then it’s on to “The Din of the Mourning,” which tears out of the gates and rips them to shreds. The vocals practically screech with anger, while a tidal wave of melodies lap up on the shore with no warning, leaving any bystander running for shelter. The vocals are crazed, while the music loops into spirals, pushing off spirited guitar work and a steamrolling tempo. “We wait too long to live, we wait too long forever,” guest vocalist Brooks Wilson (Crypt Sermon, Trenchrot) calls, as the cut comes to a fiery finish.

“The Ones We Lost” tramples a mid-tempo path to start before it bursts open, and the vocals settle into strangulation mode. “How do I live with this atrocity? Who do I blame for this defeat?” Grigg howls, as the pace rips apart everything in its wake, leaving fallen buildings and lung-choking dust. The pace continues to wrench and chew away at flesh before it grinds to a finish. “Drown Us With Greatness” has a blazing opening, with scorching guitar work adding to the already agitated pace. The vocals breathe flames, as very decidedly black metal melodies trample over you, and some off-kilter passages aim to hypnotize and potentially nauseate. Gruff growls and unquestioned intensity unleash viciousness and drag to the song to its ending. Closer “Abject in Defeat” tramples in with drums rolls and strong riffs, as a channeled assault and thought-provoking lead guitar work unfurl and present a different side of Woe’s vitriol. Grigg’s vocals lurch and corrode, with him wailing, “All paths led out to sea, and slowly I discovered, this world is not for me.” That puts a painful, sobering exclamation point at the end of a song where fear and terror and the pressures of the surrounding world settle in and bring on self-implosion.

Having Woe back in our midst is a necessary and welcome thing, and “Hope Attrition” carves a deadly new path for the band, while acting as a wake-up call for a black metal terrain that often lacks teeth. Woe’s mission never has wavered and always has been here to shake, prod, and provoke, and as this new record proves, there are very few who could hold a candle to their rage.

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

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

For more on the label, go here: https://vendettarecords.wordpress.com/

German black metal dreamers Heretoir mix sweeping melodies with devastation on ‘The Circle’

Every day, while seemingly a big deal at the time, is just one drop in an entire, huge process. From the beginning of our cycle to the end, each day can feel like it’s the most important thing in our lives at a particular moment. But when examined as a whole, it’s simply a minor shift up or down over our life’s trajectory. Oh, and we’re all going to fucking die.

Anyway, German black metal band Heretoir are well aware of these things, and that’s the focal point of their excellent new record “The Circle.” It’s a pretty sensible title, as the band examines the process of existence from birth, through one’s development, and into death. With a particular nod toward the sun, one of the driving forces of life here on Earth and wherever else it may exist in our solar system, the band goes on an 11-track journey that tracks all those steps as one progresses from birth to the grave. And this doesn’t necessarily just have to do with one’s life. It could be a project, a specific life cycle, a band, whatever. There’s always a beginning and end point, and this is a clean, linear look at that. The band—vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Eklatanz, guitarist Max F., bassist/backing vocalist Nathanael, drummer Nils Groth—delivers this first Heretoir collection in six years, the only full-length in their existence to feature members other than Eklatanz. It’s a bit of a grower, at least it was for me, but multiple listens help this thing sink into your pores and enlighten your brain.

“Alpha” is a watery, slightly gothy opening instrumental that’s dark and atmospheric, and then it’s into “The White” that fittingly has an atmosphere that reminds of winter. The music pours as the words are sung, leading into sludgy, crushing terrain where the growls emerge. Later, the music gets lush and gazey, with a prog-fueled trudge and calls echoing out. “Inhale” is the first of a few lengthier cuts, this going 7:15 and starting clean. As the song pushes along, the singing merges into growls as the temperature rises, and as the intensity builds, the cut takes on a sort of classic scream feel. The shrieks pelt you, while a calm trickling washes over before the sounds swarm again and swim to the finish. “Golden Dust,” a direct tribute to the sun, is airy and emotional, with Eklatanz calling, “I will follow you.” This one is immersed as much in dark rock as it is black metal, and the flood gates open and rage toward the finish. “My Dreams Are Lights in the Sky” starts as an acoustic rush before the volume arrives and knocks you backward. A melodic charge erupts, crushing the senses, before a burst of warmth changes the surroundings, and lead guitars bleed away. “XIX XXI XIV” is a short instrumental with cold, foggy hillsides, bells ringing, and a dream-like state carrying you off.

“Exhale” begins with slow-driving playing and harsh growls, with the music going cold, and clean singing stretching everywhere. Most of the song remains in mid-tempo, but toward the end, the doors get blown off. Drums crush everything, the vocals go for broke, and a huge ending sails off. “Eclipse” trudges and chews at first. Melodic singing and soaring guitars swell, with growls rushing and leads piercing. The track then veers toward wrenching doom, with the cut tearing open again, growls lacerating, and a proggy finish. “Laniakea Dances (Soliels Couchants)” begins a run of three long tracks that wrap the record, this one starting with clean, propulsive waves. Loud and tranquil sounds mingle, as pianos drip in, with the singing stinging, and a gentle tempo taking us out. “Fading With the Grey” emerges as noises rise before the song tears itself apart. Giant shrieks rattle bones, with tricky playing perplexing, and then the song floats into the atmosphere. Cries echo, as a child’s voice arrives, pushing the narrative, and then growls shatter any sense of calm. The journey picks up again as the song reaches its end, and it slips out with the soaring singing. “The Circle (Omega)” finishes the tale in a halo of strings and then an emotional blast. Dreariness casts a pall over the heart as the vocals turn to wild cries, and a tranquil section gives way to the song lighting up again. Final cries make their impact, and the track soars off into the night on a bed of strings.

Heretoir’s subject matter on “The Circle” is something that should strike home for all of us, and their passage from first song to last feels like they’ve captured the journey of existence pretty damn well. The music is rich and huge, and the songs are packed with undeniable emotion. This is an album with which you should set time aside to experience. This isn’t background noise. It’s way too important subject matter for that type of listening.

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

To buy the album, go here: http://shop.northern-silence.de/

For more on the label, go here: http://www.northern-silence.de/

Finnish death maulers Lantern add melody into crushing fury on sweltering new ‘II: Morphosis’

Not to discourage such activity outright, but one does not necessarily need a mind-altering substance to have a weird, beyond-this-realm journey with music. Often the right state of mind, environment, and sound can be enough to get into your system, and where you go from there is up to your imagination, morbid as it may be.

Finnish death maulers Lantern, on their second effort “II: Morphosis,” have drilled down into that territory. While their sound is savage and unforgiving on the surface (well, and way beneath the surface), there’s a lot more going on here. These songs can capture you and take you underground, through forbidden tunnels, and into the mouth of hell. Before you know it, you’re seeing odd visions and beasts in front of you, and their movements and intentions are fueled by what’s going on during these nine tracks. The band—vocalist Necrophilos, guitarists Crusiatus (lead) and St. Belial (rhythm), bassist J. Noisehunter, drummer J. Poussu—are killing it like a well-oiled machine, finally a five-piece unit that’s not just destroying you on stage, but also in the studio for this record. This is an album that’s raw but also has a greater sense of melody. It keeps intact the traditions of Finnish death, but it adds a deeper sense of horror that weighs down hard.

Opener “Black Miasma” rips apart, with guitars scorching, harsh growls pelting, and a deliberate pace stretching out the beating. The band later switches gears, with warmer waters rushing in, and the final moments going for the guts. “Sleeper of Hypnagog” is hypnotic and stirring, with the tempo suddenly speeding up and monstrous playing blasting your chest. The track continues to increase in aggression, while guitars soars, and a smudgy section turns mesmerizing and violent at the same time. “Hosting Yellow Fungi” is one of the shorter cuts, starting with chaotic guitars that create sparks, and then the melodies heads into a vortex. The vocals are nasty, while the band keeps firing, and then it’s into “Cleansing of the Air.” The cut is thrashy and vicious, as the vocals follow suit and get noticeably meaner. The track tears holes in the flesh, and then the pace changes toward blues-smeared doom. The final vocals are barked heavily, while the track rumbles to an end.

“Necrotic Epiphanies” has meaty riffs that start the bruising, but then things trickle into freezing terrain before everything lights up again. The tempo chugs hard, as the slicing melodies of this instrumental cut blast off into the night. “Transmigration” has filthy fury right off the bat, with gruff vocals and music that is hammering and fast. Guitars begin bleeding new tributaries, even shimmering at times, while grim growls and some last punches leaving you heaving. “Virgin Damnation” opens with a thick bassline before the assault spills over. The music often hangs in the air and stings, while the vocals feel like a rough poke in the chest. More doomy sentiments arrive, with the song simmering in blood and grime. The title track is an interesting, chilling interlude that pulls toward the finale “Lucid Endlessness” that immediately explodes. The song is a nice mix of vintage death metal and thrash, while some strange cosmic licks also are layered in, and hell erupts from there. The lead guitar playing gets into proggy territory, while the band hits a punishing groove in the final minutes, with Necrophilos howling, “To be reborn!” over and over before everything bleeds away.

Lantern have developed quite a bit from 2013’s “Below,” but they remain sharp and vicious all the same. “II: Morphosis” is a strong step forward for the band, a record that should fulfill the black hearts of anyone seeking the filthiest of death metal. The band may be making progress, but all that means is their agenda is darker and deadlier, and their teeth are a little sharper now.

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/lantern666

To buy the album, go here: http://www.darkdescentrecords.com/store/

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

Meat Mead Metal Premiere: First taste of Twilight Fauna’s rustic new journey ‘Falling Portraits’

twilight-faunaSo, we don’t do a ton of song premieres around here. There’s no big reason for that. But we certainly pick and choose what we want to do, and when the time’s right, we’re always happy to do a track debut.

We’ve been big fans of Twilight Fauna for a long time now. It’s the project long helmed by Ravenwood, who handles just about every element of what’s going on here. He’s always brought a woodsy, rustic approach to his melodic and atmospheric black metal, and the new Twilight Fauna record “The Year the Stars Fall” is an incredible document that grips from the start and doesn’t let go until the album subsides six tracks later. He’s joined on the record by drummer Josh Thieler (of Pittsburgh maulers Slaves BC), and the two converged to record what you’re hearing toward the end of 2016.

Today, we bring to you “Falling Portraits,” the second cut on the album and one that has a thunderous, inky start that keeps the cut bleeding and blowing fire before we head into banjo-led, whistle-laced, acoustic-fueled passages later on. We don’t want to tell you everything, though. Check out the link below to the Meat Mead Metal Soundcloud page to hear this amazing song for yourself. Prepare to take an enthralling journey into the woods and toward the stars.

Twilight Fauna release “The Year the Stars Fell” March 24. The vinyl release is limited to 150 copies—100 of which are on translucent sky blue, 50 are on blue with customized black splatter pattern made specifically for this release. The album comes in a full color jacket with double-sided insert. Random pre-orders will also include a small jar of meteorite dust. See links below to order.

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

To buy the album, go here: https://twilightfauna.bandcamp.com/album/the-year-the-stars-fell

PICK OF THE WEEK: Pillorian pave new path for members on dark, spacious offering ‘Obsidian Arc’

pillorianband_i_windowAll good things come to an end, nothing lasts forever, you know all the clichés by now. Part of what makes like so precious and all is the fact that we’re only here for a small amount of time, and some of the things that enrich our journeys also do not have shelf lives as extended as we’d hope. So, we take what we can get an enjoy it while we have it.

Black metal demigods Agalloch were as close to royalty as one was going to find in the American scene, so when their dissolution was announced (I’m not going to rehash that whole thing, because it’s been done to death) last year, it was a stunning blow. For those way outside the band’s inner circle, it was a saddening shock, and it made me damn happy I trekked to Maryland Deathfest in 2014 just to see the band. But from Agalloch’s fall will come other bands, the first up being Pillorian, featuring John Haughm, who was one of the driving forces behind that group. Here, he’s joined by bassist/guitarist Stephen Parker (Banewreaker, Maestus) and drummer Trevor Matthews (ex-Infernus, Uada), and the band’s debut record “Obsidian Arc” is an awfully impressive, fiery first step. If you’re going in expecting an Agalloch record just because Haughm is involved, guess again. While some of those tenets are there, the folk underpinning are at a minimum, with the band instead roars like a black storm, creating black metal that’s equally ferocious and melodic. Over seven songs and 48 minutes, you take a devastating trip that punishes fully.

pillorian_obsidianarc_eisen119_w“By the Light of a Black Sun” starts with acoustics mixed with heaviness, as Haughm’s growls settle in sounding gnarlier than usual, as it mixes with the strong, spacious playing. “I am the face of the gods,” Haughm roars, as the music starts to fade away and enter serenity before everything opens up again, the guitars go off on an adventure, and everything corrodes in noise. “Archaen Divinity” is both punchy and infused with air, and then it begins crushing in earnest. Haughm’s growls again are a harsher brand than we’re used to, as the music flows nicely from verse to chorus, eventually fading into chilly terrain. From there, whispers rise like a fog before the song whips up for a thunderous conclusion. “The Vestige of Thorns” also simmers in atmosphere, as the growls are gurgly at points, downright brutal in other areas. The lead guitar work feels like it flies over mountaintops, with Haughm calling, “Make me whole again!” Clean singing pops in for the first time, as the track ends with industrial-style churns and acoustics guitars that soak the ground.

“Forged Iron Crucible” has a compelling, jarring start, and then the growls set in and begin to chew at your nerves. “A vessel that will carry me to the grave,” Haughm prods, before observing “purity in fire,” as the band ramps up its efforts, and the song bleeds out in stormy winds. “A Stygian Pyre” is crunchy as hell, as guitars take off and hit the gas pedal, and Haughm warns, “Our fire burns black.” That’s paid off in the guitar work that twists up your guts right before they take flight, and the final moments both punish and galvanize at the same time. “The Sentient Arcanum” is a short cut with guitars toppling and strange, eerie noises scraping along. Closer “Dark Is the River of Man” is the most comparable to Agalloch, as Haughm’s stinging clean singing takes center stage, and the song floats in ice cold waters. “Tie your hands and suffer,” Haughm urges, as the song kicks up more power while the track progresses, and some folkish fires catch, letting this record burn off into the night sky.

Pillorian truly is a fresh start for Haughm and the rest of the band. “Obsidian Arc” is an album that packs some surprises, as well as a powder keg of explosiveness for its listeners. This band is carving its own bloody path, and their first carving into the wilderness is a riveting, unforgettable one.

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

To buy the record, go here: http://records.eisenton.de/merch

For more on the label, go here: https://www.eisenton.de/