• Matt Corby, The Good Legs.. Live-session

    13 Feb 2014, 13:12 by 136

  • Live-session video (SWE)

    29 Jan 2014, 16:27 by 136


    We got a new live session video out. This time we met Bernard et Bianca and recorded it in an elevator..!

    The video:

    Their song on Spotify:
  • 2014 Reviews and Ratings

    16 Jan 2014, 22:46 by XfnSnow

    January and February, I was very happy typing about music constantly. Through March -July it fell a little on the back burner. Still listening to some incredibly sounds though. The sheer influx of amazing albums remains a tad overwhelming. The journal probably looks like I'm reviewing every scrap of new music I can get my hands on, but I promise this is not the case. I'm deeply invested in only reviewing music I deem truly special & connective. Keeping reviews short and snappy. Please message or comment with recommendations! I really appreciate having some discourse with humans about music (not to mention it encourages me to keep contributing at times when I get a little withdrawn from writing).

    2013 JOURNAL

    2012 JOURNAL

    2011 JOURNAL

    My own DIY project:
    Courtsleet - Facebook | SoundCloud | bandcamp |


    IDYLLS - Prayer For Terrene

    Brisbane based IDYLLS first came to my attention last year with their awesome EP, Indian Circle. I knew they were a band to follow despite the fact they were making the kind of music I don't usually feel a strong emotional association with. Prayer For Terrene is a masterfully delivered expression of angst... Pummelling statement of anger... Eviscerating declaration of rage... An active swirling black hole masticating the soul of its listener... Escalating discordant but catchy ideas spiral out of control, more feral and pissed off than any punk or grind album I've experienced previously. Dare I say, if this album had come before Jane Doe, people would be saying "Jane Doe is trying to be Prayer for Terrene, but it's far less intense with less experimentation". That's hard for me to say, because Jane Doe is a very important album to me (and probably everyone who heard it when it first arrived), and also, I doubt IDYLLS would have arrived at this horrendous sonic identity without the guidance of Converge's back catalogue. The performances on this album just reek of sweat, beer and intensity. Musicians bouncing off the walls with the records intent felt in every electrified fibre of their being. Without the grit teeth and tears behind the playing, this could be a pretty different album, or at least in the sentiments it propagates. The opening two tracks are LIED TO, and FAGGED OUT ON THE BEACH - the first a 7 minute epic, the second just over a minute long Riff (harking back to and idea in the first track) which has to be heard to be believed. There's sand in my eyes I swear it. The first time I heard this album, I hung out of my attic bedroom window at 2 in the morning with a cheap beer, watching a fox skulk around my neighbour's gardens. It was special. Five Aussie dollars. Go pay. BANDCAMP


    paramnesia - Paramnesia

    This French post-black metal bands, rather 'blank' story continues with their third release since reforming. Two 20 minute long compositions, following the trend of their previous releases. Now we're on to track 'IV' and track 'V'. I adore this bands sound and their willingness to let their creations be to the listener, what ever the listener divines. The post-black metal genre is, as I've said in previous reviews going back almost a year now, becoming exceedingly over-saturated - I often wonder why musicians even dare to try this combination of influences if they're not going to produce something really excellent. Bland post-black metal is really horrendously boring. Paramnesia are quite conventional, but they utterly excel in every way from strong performances, a dense and suffocating atmosphere, impossibly gargantuan compositions and a not too overstated, almost punk like aesthetic. I also find the only way to appreciate Paramnesia are creating masterpiece after masterpiece with their songs is by "really" putting your ear into what they are doing, and listening with anticipation. The temptation to just let the fury wash over you is strong, and listening closely is quite an exhausting experience, but I certainly recommend it. The music translates into a sense of sublime longing, storms out at sea, a reflection on our daily burdens, the beauty and a stillness of a predawn sky. BANDCAMP


    Birds of Passage - This Kindly Slumber

    Birds of Passage is the stirring lamentations of Alicia Merz, taking the form of pensive and haunting drones escalating under a unique vocal, whispering deeply introspective poetry. It's been a while since I listened to 2011's ‘Winter Lady’, and hoped this would take me to the same broken-down, desolate and forgotten places. Seconds into ‘This Kindly Slumber’ and I have arrived at the same destination where Winter Lady cruelly abandoned me. Sincerely brave, beautiful and poignant tones build like a storm of sleet masking an auroral display. To refer to birds of passage as drone almost does this a disservice. This isn't just a collection of eerie hums, noises and feedbacks endlessly yearning, as much drone which claims to be far more, simply is. It is a very precisely conveyed harmonic showcase, which is so connective, in sheer spite of it’s simplicity you'd probably need to look into neural science to find out exactly why our emotional buttons are titillated with such military precision during these moving, otherworldly sonnets. Alicia sings an airy falsetto, which is mixed closely in unison to an overdub of a close-miced whisper. This confessional conveyance is the force by which we experience the artistic purging of self, which is both harrowing and humbling to behold.


    Deadwood - Picturing A Sense Of Loss

    We have to be careful here, as there seems to be a handful of bands using this moniker (and by the looks of it they are all relatively extreme and have a pretty strong following). In this instance I am talking about the debut album of the German post black metal band (Facebook). From the first moments of Picturing a Sense of Loss I feel a flood of qualities gushing forth – with an immense (apparently DIY!) production and totally overwhelming riffing, Deadwood’s emotive mission statement is instantaneously clear to the listener. A couple of minutes into opening track ‘Burden of Remembrance’, the fury is suddenly stripped away and an incredibly sensitive wave of clean guitar unfolds with massive, heartbreaking brass-like sounds harmonizing in the background. These sections, which flare up frequently, feeling new each time and teeming with quality, ring of the same compositional panache as post-rock titans ‘*Shels’, only when Deadwood up the ante, they’re being torn apart by bellowing storms on some exposed and isolated peak in the Black Forests of the Bavarian wilderness. The long chord progressions remind of Deafheaven’s ecstatic approach to the genre on their celebrated album Sunbather (which love or hate it, both commercially and as an entity on it’s own, is a milestone within post black metal). Deadwood’s expression seems to extend beyond what emotional climax Sunbather offers and when build-ups begin at a fever pitch, the effect this music has on me is literally dizzying, with each moment I fight for air that’s instantly stripped away from my lungs. Get into this while the band is still unsigned. Stream and buy on bandcamp.


    Kriegsmaschine - Enemy of man

    Poland is a land rejoiced near and far for its extreme exports of which Kriegsmaschine are probably simultaneously one of the least celebrated, but most ferocious powerhouses. Discordant riffs ooze out over slithering groove-based drumming with a vocal approach so hateful and empowered, it causes my core to literally tremble. Music themed on Satanism often caries primal and almost Neanderthal energetic synergies, which although convey aesthetics and concepts wonderfully - are usually about the exhibition of abhorrence and disdain - so are often produced and composed in a way that reflects that (abhorrently). The evil in satanic music is in mistreatment of wildly wielded compositional devices and this lack of beauty and finesse makes the ill sentiments of the artist more frigid and tangible. I make this observation so I can strip the relevance of it from the deeply Satanic Kriegsmaschine, as they successfully maintain a choking misanthropy and morally testing levels of evil in a confrontational sound which is also full of intricacies and shows a mindfully intelligent level of craft. I must remark on the interesting choice of pace for this album, pretty much staking every riff around mid-paced grooves. For this reason, it sounds like a death metal album to me, certainly more so than Mgla, who are perhaps the more well known of these two projects that do in fact share key members. As a musician, I can often comprehend the techniques and thought gone into the creation of a bands sound and although this can demystify my experiences, it doesn’t necessarily cheapen it in anyway and probably heightens my appreciation for artist’s output. However, I honestly can not fathom the ability, scope and creativity gone in to this particularly splendid form of obscure and cerebral blackened-death metal.


    Gnaw Their Tongues & Alkerdeel - Dyodyo Asema

    Dyodyo Asema is one of those rare collaborations, similar to those symbiotic compositions Nadja have done with relevant groups who've had room in their sound to let another's unique essence in. When a band has a vital essence which feeds its character, it can be sprinkled lightly or poured extensively over other projects, coating them in a musical plasma which would other wise have been unachievable. The best of these two bands is on offer here, with Alkerdeel (black metal from Belgium) we're getting a commodiously raw and baneful body of guitars and drums, while Gnaw Their Tongues (from the Netherlands) famously provides utterly terrifying experimental noise, which stimulates the same emotional responses as really frigid black metal. A visual treatment has been offered up with the 19 minute long composition, crossing over short film, collaboration and in some ways challenging conventional release paradigms. This video sees parasitic creatures interacting with the flesh in ultra exposed, high contrast and macro focus. The treatment ends with a man preparing heroin, injecting it and convulsing disturbingly on a bed. the feeling I get from the video reminds me of the "Dead" video by Khanate. I want to look away, but the whole piece is so well orchestrated aurally and aesthetically, I'd be doing myself a more damaging disservice if I did. Depressive anguished cries, disorientating sound design and soul wrenching riffing all eventually plume from the contused doom, which cleverly builds during the first third. There is a compelling moment at 12:30, it feels like a myriad of hands punch through my chest, grab all of my vital organs and with a sharp simultaneous tug release them from the confines of my torso. The icey lead melody freezes me, empty, bewildered, catatonic and alone. The song finally dissolves into more of the darker and sadder chaos we’re used to from Gnaw Their Tongues, folding in on itself, giving off lifeless and cold energies. My only regret is I’ve not been able to get just the sound for this single collaboration yet, but even still, I can pretty much guarantee if you press play on this video, you’ll be transfixed for one of the most stimulating 19 minute long music visuals you'll ever see.


    Hypnologica - Sonar

    This is deeply unique and personal post-black metal from the bone and tissue behind UK based solo project self-inflicted violence. Even though I've been taking in a lot of great new music lately, this is the first release in a while to really excite me on an emotional level. I think it is past due I explain why I sometimes use Twin Peaks (The 90s David Lynch Television series) as a reference point for the feeling a band conveys. Firstly, if the music really gets under your skin and stirs your emotional weather in a way you haven't felt prior. Secondly, if there's that sense of reality being obscured or occulting a very sinister under-layer. Thirdly the aesthetic and musical combination of Twin Peaks had this astral almost meditative perspective to it. If ever I say a band has twin peaks vibes, I mean it ticks all the above boxes. Aside from drawing praise from those sentiments, I just need to emphasize, the musical constructions here are as strong as Wolves in the Throne Room when they are accurately trajecting the deepest corners of their muse. The structure of each song means every moment has tension or release and nothing falls flat. I had the urge to force this band on all my closest musical comrades (although it's not so easy to do this now as I've unsubscribed from social networking) I am impatient to see this find its audience.


    Woods of Desolation - As The Stars

    Woods of Desolation needs no introduction. 'D.' is a main player in one of the more espied scenes in modern black metal as of late - there is an exceedingly innovative artistic gene pool in Australia where ideas are bouncing off emerging figures in a way that totally parallels how the French shoegaze black metal crew (Neige/Winterhalter/Fursy) seemed to keep thriving off an insular fraternity to grow and mature and consistently produce superlative tour-de-force albums. One such parallel for me (totally subjective I might add) is that of the Australian scene, Tim Yatras (a past contributor to Woods of Desolation) appears to be regarded the central obelisk in the same way that over in France, the title and responsibility is popularly adorned to Neige. However, I think ‘As the Stars’ is vastly superior to anything else to come from the Australian scene, and soul member of Woods of Desolation ‘D.’ is my personal champion of the region in the same way Fursy Teyssier of Amesoeurs and Les Discrets fame is easily my favourite musician to arrive from the French scene. The standout tracks for me here are ‘This Autumn Light’ and ‘Withering Field’. Hearing this album is overwhelming and almost triggers that shattering feeling you can get from witnessing something truly sublime, like a coastal storm or first time view from a mountains summit. Before sitting down to write this review, I’d been on a hike to admire the stars. Tonight was first clear night in the north of the UK for quite some time so I portably enjoyed ‘As the Stars’ while I tunneled deeper into the woods, before settling for a suitable clearing to absorb the ancient light of the Pleiades, The Beehive Cluster and The Great Andromeda Galaxy (some favourite easy binocular targets I’ve missed since things got foggy around here) as well as feel the sheer delight of Jupiter’s Galilean Moons and exploring the constellations of Perseus, Cassiopeia and Cygnus, which light up remarkably with all their fainter stars when observed away from light pollution. My session was drawn to a conclusion when the dark sky was flooded with light from a 90% waning gibbous moon, hurriedly rising up over the horizon, while low in the atmosphere being magnified spectacularly, also distorting the light into gorgeous red and orange hues and although breathtaking, the intensity of its shadow-casting light actually pollutes and masks the deeper-sky challenges. Without Woods of Desolation’s music as a soundtrack, this activity still gives me a feeling of purpose and provides my spirit a sense of renewal, but with ‘As the Stars’ an accompaniment, the universe truly opened it’s iris to me and the feeling was kaleidoscopic, emotional, effervescent revelatory and inspirational. For now the album is being streamed HERE.


    Indian - From All Purity

    Fierce and emotionally exhausting Chicago based sludge/noise which flagellates the listener with devastating riffs bracketed by an unholy cacophony of disillusioning feedback. The vocals are mixed incredibly well, with an extremely dry and immediate sound which denotes a sense of urgency and commands attention of the listener. Where most sludge bands succeed in having a violating sound, Indians have found a higher plain of anxiety ridden aural hatred by keeping certain aspects of their arsenal in reserve, giving them a unique device I think I’ll call ‘the sliding scale of maliciousness'. They achieve this by not using their lowest string in every riff. When they do add it, it isn't as an octave to the tonic of their chord, but usually to the perfect fifth, giving the impression that a huge undercurrent of distortion suddenly colours out the low frequencies. The drummer also has a wetter higher frequency cymbal he moves on to create more contrast when the darkest moments are taking place.


    Hexis - Abalam

    One sniff of a sample from this Danish blackened sludge juggernaut caused me to immediately stop what I was doing and acquire Abalam for a rare, compelling listening session where I removed all visual stimuli, found a silent place and just let the music access my spirit. The barbed riffs assault my ear and enter my central nervous system, grating around my brain which sends signals to quicken my pulse, shorten the time between my breaths. My legs begin to cramp up. A fixed stare occupies my face as normal functions go on stand by. This albums intense metabolic rampaging statement is an immensely welcome addition to a sound which I've become progressively enamoured with. Hexis are issuing an approach which falls directly in the middle of the discordant anarchistic grooves of Rorcal, the spirit crushing diseased onslaught of Celeste and the devastating sense of timing and song craft presented by Redwood Hill (who not only are of the same nationality, but actually joined Hexis in a split release last year). Name your price on bandcamp


    Horizon Ablaze - Dødsverk

    Horizon Ablaze is acrimonious, grinding death metal with black metal elements. The band is made up of a star studded cast, with members featuring in bands such as 1349, Absu and Blood Red Throne! The statement this album makes is evident from the very opening, ‘Nekrosis’ sees eerie swells of harmonics met with a rambling chant of vocals, building from a standard death metal growl to a fit of utter hysterics. One can deduce very quickly the listener is not in for an easy ride. What follows is some of the loudest fuzzed out and cacophonous riff worship I’ve heard in a long time - with all relevant extreme sub-genres featuring heavily. From upbeat ‘black'n'roll’ and melodic thrash riffs, to despairingly epic black metal and doom to daemonic drops, plunging the whole experience half a mile into the earth with huge staccato kick patterns punctuated by pummeling palm muting and rhythm work. Der Untergang is easily the heaviest and most immediate limb of this album of coarsely stapled together severed appendages, with some disgustingly crushing guitar parts initiating a nautical metallic sludge, which has these maddeningly moorish bends. The immediacy of the thrashing waves of sound are an experience reminiscent of the first time I listened to Anaal Nathrakh’s 'Total fucking Necro' demo compilation - perhaps throw in some Disma and Pensees Nocturnes to get the full picture. Unfortunately at the time of posting, there's still a wait for this to be released. Coming out on Code666 - February 28th.


    Torrid Husk - Caesious

    Torrid Husk are a black metal band from the US, unable and unwilling to negotiate a pitch of pure contemptible fervour. Caesious is one of those releases that doesn’t reproach boundaries, or make any particularly bold musical claims, but what it does do is present a gloriously auspicious expression of fury - from one riff to the next leaving me disorientated and powerless to compute the invariable quality which cows me with it’s virtuous organic vehemence. The drop in pace in final track ‘Paranoia’ is wholly savored, although if anything, in these terminal moments, the intensity is perhaps already too habituate and the amount of ill-ease felt when the distortion is stripped away just causes deeper sensations of remoteness and vulnerability before the parting cascade vexes, extirpates and eradicates the listener. Pre-order now at bandcamp for a very modest price. Released by Grimoire Records on the 4th of February.


    Aastraal - Tuba Mirum Spargens Sonum Per Sepulcra Regionum, Coget Omnes Ante Thronum

    This tumultuous project from the Netherlands is definitely the most unique album I've heard so far this year. Bellowed, ceremonious vocals add summoning nectar to frantic evolving layers of avant-garde black metal and when I say frantic, this thing is careening terminally downward toward unfathomable depths of depravity. At first listen, this music might seem somewhat ludicrous, with a driving tempo and low bit-rate drum sounds over a mix heavy with synths, but you'd do yourself a favour to push your ear through any intitial reaction and prevail. My listening habits lead me to attempt to dissect and separate out the complex and chaotic layers melding to make up the melodic body of what Aastraal present, but I actually discovered I find far less reward in the music when doing this – it is much better to let this album befall as a dynamic textural whole, allowing it's harmonic profile to remain an amalgamated mystery. A lot of what is going on is either brass and string pad synths, which dispense a shepherding continuo, rejoicing in twisting the listeners stomach, secreting a bile drenched anxiety. The fuzzy guitars are not easy to separate from this in the mix, which is partly why I prefer to allow this thing to hit me like a wall. My favourite track is Eschew The Physical Realm, where the vocals lull me as the music acts as a physical counterpoint trying to shake me out of the chorally imbued noctambulism.


    Aenaon - Extance

    In Aenaon, Greek avant-garde/progressive metal seamlessly egresses like an avalanche from the 5 members making up the bands core-force, with countless guest appearances adding further texture and scope to an already breathtakingly ambitious album. It has taken me a couple of listens to get my ear around, in the same way I had to go back to bands like Leprous or Ne Obliviscaris. Aenaon has definite similarities, with complex yet tasteful musicianship reflecting an irrefutable craftsmanship – but what really keeps me sealed in is the mixtures of tonal sapidity, from epic thrashy and melodic death metal, to discordant black metal, all tapered with the succinct vision progressive music needs to not get pulled apart by its own ambition. The song ‘Closer to Scaffold’ bares gravid riffs, and stands out to me for the sheer mirth of hearing stalwart pay-offs in the gripping, bunched up expression of an ultra tense palm muted section, leading on to a sludgey curtain call, accompanied by unique vocals. Released on the 20th of January by code666


    Dying Sun - Transcendence

    Dying Sun is a 1.989E30KG heavy post-hardcore project from Maryland USA. Its three members display ideas so massive that their grandiose moniker seems in no way inappropriate. A genuine range is on offer here from monstrous riffs, complemented by a really forlorn production - to more heartfelt and minimal sections, such as the opening of The Weight of Time, which uses sparse doom inherited drumming with a sensational bit of ambience muddled into clean vocals, which haunt the foreground. Dying Sun is extraordinarily consistent and these taut, pensive moments sound mature, experimental and nostalgic. When the heaviness dominating ‘Transcendence’ is locked in, one thing that stands out is the construction of the guitar parts. When compared to the expressive dirge-based chording of your average decent post-hardcore band, these more thoughtful and explorative phrases and ideas blindingly outshine the vast majority of the genre. I love the fuzzy, reverb-y production giving the tender moments a feeling more akin to shoe gaze or post-punk. Further detailed listening unveils a layer of white noise a little bit higher than the other distortions which in a sense of synaesthesia, draws the music into a tunnel where the walls become the kind of static visual disturbance experienced before fainting or during a massive head-rush. Stillness is probably my favourite track here, not just for the finale which throws back to a glimpse of a hint of a chugging pay off, but because from section to section the instrumentation, melody and arrangement is beautifully realized. Pay what you like at bandcamp.


    Spectral Tower - Spectral Tower

    With alien sounding harmony laden guitar work, synchronic impellent automated drums, a girthy berth of atmospheric ambience and misery-ardent vocals, this two piece project from the US have woven a truly exciting sonic tapestry of six unique progressive, psychedelic, epics which personally subsidize Spectral Tower a preeminent identity. Melodically it reminds me of Worm Ouroboros or Esoteric, but the industrial timbres invite a nightmarish Godflesh element and expanse. The apt and amazing final song ‘Departure’ meets with aspiration and a hopeful yearing erupts out of the fleeting black metal body of the track, which seamlessly erodes into an acoustic/ambient conclusion. Name your price on bandcamp at the time of posting this review.


    My Useless Life - Negative Memories

    California’s My Useless Life is a two piece alpha-to-omega cognizance of the depressive black metal sound. With chagrin, murk impregnated chord progressions, which don't defer from leaking over into the major key, a sturdy wall of sustained woe surges into the listener while the upper guitar parts sponge away all emotional hues except a forthright and astringent sadness. The DSBM dirge is embraced and propelled in the rest of the dynamics and arrangement. ‘Negative Memories’ feels like trying to smile through really bad news, while whoever is bestowing the information on you uncomfortably holds your gaze. I must mention the vocals which sound suitable inhuman and tormented and perfectly juxtapose any of the musical sentiment of some fairly neo-classical melodies in the lead guitar or piano parts. This album is quite remarkable and deserves to be held up and spoken about.


    ROTS (Rise of the Simians) - The Night the Trees Burnt

    ROTS are an up and coming UK based post metal band who tip their arrows with doom and black metal and although in this metaphor, a poison in a wound would cause a slower more painful death, we’re also treat to that extra added emotional connectivity, afforded from the aforementioned genres. It's easy to excuse the slightly boxy production in favour of the ideas the band are displaying, especially in the second quarter of the opening track, by which point I no longer care that the guitars sound muddy and distant. I think it's fair to say what ROTS do best are their black metal sections. I have little doubt witnessing ROTS live at full throttle in a small club environment would be a crushing experience. The ventures into a more psychedelic doom territory don't do as much for me personally, especially the choppy build up that never quite amounts to anything at the end of the opener which is also this EP’s title track. For a band that’ve been playing together for coming up to 8 years, I hope this EP brings them success and recognition. Name your price now on bandcamp.

    Have a Nice Life - The Unnatural World

    A Silver Mt Zion - Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light On Everything

    Mortphose - Mirror to the Heavens

    Atlas Machine - Elysium

    Nebelung - Palingenesis

    Woman is the Earth - Depths

    Toluca - Memoria

    Walk Through Fire - Hope Is Misery

    Stilla - Ensamhetens Andar

    Miasme - perpetual.terminal

    Eos - L'Avalé

    Infestus - The Reflecting Void

    Beroth - Burning Sermons

    Yarn Of Norna - Ronové

    Epistasis - Light Through Dead Glass

    Sterbefall - Weg Nach Nichtigkeit

    Twilight - III: Beneath Tridents Tomb

    Sun Worship - Elder Giants

    Clouds Collide - NYC

    Dirge - Hyperion

    Merkabah - Moloch

    Anathema - Distant Satellites

    Chaos Moon - Resurrection Extract

    Chasma - Omega Theorian

    Clouds Collide/Sleeping Peonies - Opal/Elestial

    Conan - Blood Eagle

    Crib45 - Marching Through The Borderlines

    DAMA/LIBRA - Claw

    Dementia Senex - Heartworm

    Lethian Dreams - Red Silence Lodge

    Muka - Svi Sute

    Pogavranjen - Sebi Jesi Meni Nisi

    Seirom - And The Light Swallowed Everything

    Thou - Heathen


  • Sigur Rós : hot under the stars

    27 Jul 2013, 18:23 by steerpike

    Fri 26 Jul – Sigur Rós @Ferrara Sotto le Stelle

    Sigur Rós were hot at Ferrara ....and so were the audience. read all about it at Animal My Soul
  • 2013 - Reviews/Ratings.

    24 Feb 2013, 02:41 by XfnSnow

    Wasn't it incredible? Even though this is my most extensive list since I started doing these - it still feels like there are things missing. The majority of albums here have a proper review, but there are some I really wanted to include but never quite got around to giving the treatment. This is about giving appreciation to artists who've created something that has enriched my life. Lowest rated at the top, scroll down to ascend the list in terms of quality. EVERYTHING I include I wholeheartedly recommend. It wouldn't be on here if I didn't.

    2014's list

    2012's list.

    2011's list.

    Support for my own DIY project is much appreciated:
    Courtsleet - Facebook | SoundCloud | bandcamp |

    lovesilkpalemilk - Your skin, pale as milk
    85. - (65%)

    Lovesilkpalemilk is a blackgaze project from Sweden. Proving that the misty and undefinable energy that is the essence of black metal can be utilized in as twee a framework imaginable, this won't be for everyone (but it certainly is for me). It wears it's influences heavily on it's sleeve, for instance using the 'word painting' patented by Clair Cassis (the reincarnation of Velvet Cacoon) which became a cement convention for bands that utilize blackgaze ideas loyally, for instance Sleeping Peonies who represent the beauty in coastal urban decay with language which draws in pastel shades and in its onomatopoeia, crosses the boundaries of our senses like it could almost be beautiful food or a unique aroma. Lovesilkpalemilk is romantic and tragic and manages to hit the right emotional spots by keeping it's reach modest, and if it does blur the senses, it feeds you enough parma violets to give you one mean sugar rush, or maybe rot your teeth?


    Vukari - Matriarch
    84. - (66%)

    Really stunning post-black metal from the US with lots of interesting structural ideas and really epic guitar sections. Gorgeous production helps to deliver a more challenging and slightly different concept within what is expected of this genre.


    Outre - Tranquility
    83. - (67%)

    Outre are a progressive black metal band from Poland that have delivered the opposite to the sentiments of the title of their EP - "Tranquillity". This band has anger and energy and isn't afraid to bend musical conventions to get their feelings across, from dark and mesmerizing dissonant sludge riffs, to stomping 'chuggathons', often accompanied by a hair raising upper guitar section adding atmosphere and colour to the wider scope of Outre's sound. The production sounds quite home grown, but the mix has a great balance and enough sophistication to make it interesting from section to section. I'd say there's a bit of something for everyone in here, and Outre could serve as a good crossover band for some audiences moving from modern metal, to darker more melancholic genres or vice versa.


    Astronoid - Stargazer
    82. - (69%)

    Astronoid is very epic and melodic post-black metal fronted by an angelic vocalist and sporting some really stupendous moments. It's short, but the material is good enough for repeated listens and there's enough depth to really sink your teeth in to it. judging by the length I'd say this is Astronoid's way of raising their hand and making their presence known before the proverbial Post-bm sea levels rise to the sort of heights that could drown any of the lesser known but more deserving acts. As we enter the second half of the best year for music I can pretty much recall, certain scenes are proving so active they're close to over saturation. I for one am thankful Astronoid have chosen now to stake their claim to the genre, even if it's meant putting out what can only really be described as a mini ep in preparation for a full length expected in 2014. This is extremely melodic post bm with the sort of 'hooks' that grit teeth and give tear ducts a work out. The vocal performance is comparable to Vinny Cavanagh of Anathema fame.


    FrostAgratH - A Journey Of Infinite Sorrow
    81. - (70%)

    FrostAgratH is an enthralling young project from Egypt, which really captures the darker spirit of classic black metal. With a genuinely evil-on-the-listener production, somehow the instruments just stay afloat in a mix that is awash with ground noise and otitis media inflicting hiss. The vocals are delivered with a sterile and bitter coldness - from tormented wailing to reverb drenched cries of anguish. The guitars are hypnotic and suitably miserable! You couldn't confuse FroatAgratH’s harrowing atmosphere with any other and by the time the release ebbs to its end, you feel as if you've just been released from the clutches of a violating, relentless storm. But the pleasure in this music is in holding on and withstanding as it washes over you. Everything is as it should be if you feel challenged and confronted, as by the end that feeling tends to transform into reward.


    Judd Madden - Glacial
    80. - (70%)

    American post-doom, overseen by a one man tour-de-force/multi-instrumentalist/producer/engineer. This kind of doom has prestige. It's got a really controlled temper and there is no fear shown by Madden in letting sections swell and then erode - at points we're met with all the little pieces of riffs that are left over, and you can hear stirrings and nods as the riffs search for another opportunity to wrestle back their force and full potential. Glacial is a more than apt title, I often refer to doom with glistening leads and atmospheric reverbs as being glacier-like, and so I'm very happy to file this with bands such as Omega Massif and UR.


    Sleep White Winter - Dreamscapes
    79. - (71%)

    This was a real suprise and an amazing effort by this young American duo. Captures a maudlin spirit with tastefully crafted dreamy atmospheric black metal, good listening for channeling those daily woes!


    Sadhaka - Terma
    78. - (72%)

    Sadhaka are a “Cascadian” black metal band from the US, who theme themselves around tantric eastern practices in an attempt to unveil our inherently enlightened minds unto ourselves. It continues to fascinate me how the aural spirit of black metal can be twisted, stretched and reapplied to so many different themes - as long as the band has the right qualities and plays with conviction, it simply acts as an emotional vessel for the artist to literally inject their idea into the listener. Terma has some typical melodic metal moments which, beyond adding a bit of variety, shell the band in an all-round positivity - although to my ears these sections can be a little dull. When Sadhaka are at their best, it's hard to find a match for them in terms of their immediate musical gene-pool. The last two tracks, Impermanence and Ancient Ones are the real highlights for me. The four tracks making up this album are all very long, so I’d hate for someone to dismiss Sadhaka before getting to the vastly stronger second half of the album. At the time of writing this Sadhaka were doing a hefty tour of Europe, which I regret isn’t hitting the UK! I get a feeling their material would be incredible on stage.


    Fourteen Nights At Sea - Great North
    77. - (72%)

    Pristine and mature post-rock, with a constantly evocative and arresting melodic quality from Melbourne Australia. Recommended for deep relaxation and reflection with the occasional interruption to fiercely strip the breath from your body.


    Lluvia - Premonicion De Guerra
    76. - (73%)

    This is a rare gem of redoubtable post black metal from Leon, Mexico. Switching gloriously between urgent surging blast beats, and exposed mid tempo payoffs, everything from the compositional quality, to the fine details of the production would be operose to fault. Name your price on bandcamp.


    Emphasis - Gliding Over All
    75. - (73%)

    Emphasis are a three piece from Croatia playing definitive cinematic post-rock, which sometimes pushes over to the heavier side of the spectrum. A lot of the time I can easily picture the inevitability of emphasis' music, but continuing on filmic imagery with an allegory to Hollywood films, it’s not about the destination/conclusion, but how the audience is brought to that resolution, and Emphasis make up for their ‘stenciled in’ post-rock structures with stirring melodies and invigorating payoffs. During clean sections the motion of the music is compelled by nothing more than the harmonic explorations, which enables the listener to propagate the music as if it were non-diegetic, encouraging the indulged to sit back and watch their life unfold for 45 minutes in autopilot. My favourite tracks are the last two (Enter the Signs & Mura). The children's choir in Mura is a wonderful touch to finish the album on and leaves a very positive impression.


    Slidhr - Deluge
    74. - (74%)

    Norse themed one man Irish black metal with modern production twists, making up an extremely formidable and listenable collection of tracks, built with a genius and impressive level of scope.


    The Flight of Sleipnir - Saga
    73. - (75%)

    After a fair few listens, I'm still struggling as to whether or not this album is a masterpiece, or just an average folky doom/sludge album. In the majority of occasions, I usually discover when music keeps me coming back and trying again and again, eventually the 'breakthrough' occurs, but with The Flight of Sleipnir’s - Saga, I'm still agonizingly perched on the fence. I wouldn’t disagree with anyone who said the former, but I would empathise with anyone who found it mediocre. It's one of the first albums I listened to this year and it has taken me until April to approach this review. With dreary, perfectly tempered vocals heading music which polarizes between folk, psychedelic rock, black metal and doom, Saga does not lack for ambition. I find the strongest sections musically are in the acoustic arrangements, which also have a physically absorbing production (I can honestly feel the crisp plosive-ness of the steel-stringed acoustic guitar like ice cracking in my sinuses). The heaviness only occasionally transcends from quite run-of-the-mill (but nevertheless quality) rock/doom riffs to the truly hair raising elemental catharsis The Flight of Sleipnir are capable of. ‘Demise Carries With it a Song’ is a very beautiful track which begins with the raging spirit of Primordial and ends with a simply fantastic waltzing riff in the vain of In The Woods. Time is still on our side, I will love this album completely.


    Encircling Sea - Forgotten Land
    72. - (75%)

    Encircling Sea are a “Cascadian”/folk/post-rock inspired black metal act from Germany, who allow megalithic, misty and nautical riffs to slowly and patiently assemble a stringent verdure. The pace feels dictated by tidal forces, whether blasting along the surface or submerging the listener in ritualistic doom sections. If I had to compare this band to it's obvious counter parts, those being Addaura, The Flight of Sleipnir and Sadhaka, I'd say the edge is gained by Encircling Sea for their attributed approach to traditional black metal - with a gelid haze cast over the vocals, amoebic drums driving with an understated production and the guitars illustrate an arms length murk which adds overlying warmth.


    Dhow - Dhow
    71. - (75%)

    From the cutaneous appendages of Sujo, Dhow - a self-styled ‘light’ to the ‘shade’ of Ryan’s main project - delivers swathes of ambient fuzzed out drone pollution, with occasional bursts of melancholic rock. The melodic language does have the same unique compositional quality as main project Sujo, a sort of nightmarish openness to the chords which speak to me on multiple levels. There are some quite extraordinary ideas and experimentation, particularly with the distorted drums which just lose themselves entirely in strange idiosyncratic mechanisms and counterpoint. It's great night-time music if you can forgive the unnerving and creepy sound designs and occasional static swells which can bring shapes out of the dark, or have you looking over your shoulder.


    The Wandering - The Forest In Your Name
    70. - (76%)

    The Forest in Your Name is a Czech Republic based instrumental concept EP by solo artist Tyrael. Songs are built on post-rock structures and climb to genuinely aggravated crescendos. At one turn we hear militaristic chugging rhythms and at another, fierce blast beats. The music is an exercise in closure for its creator in regards to a broken connection, and knowing this adds greater effect to the samples of a lover's quarrel over the album's first steadily encroaching ideas. After the scene is set, it's very easy to empathize with T's anguish, knowing those feelings of self doubt, regret and melancholy that follows any separation. Gorgeously themed and executed DIY music, honouring it's most relevant function and state. Show your support with a small 3 dollar donation in exchange for this incredibly personal work at The Wandering's official site.


    Massemord - A Life-giving Power of Devastation
    69. - (77%)

    The album sounds like it's title suggest. Very riffy, if a bit tried and tested. That said, the very high standards set by polish black metal are certainly met.


    GriefRain - Aura
    68. - (77%)

    Awesome light and shade post-black, like a more DIY Alcest from Russia.


    IRN - IRN
    67. - (77%)

    Have been really enjoying this as one of the more heavy, nastier doom albums this year. Amazing tone and perfectly rough around the edges recording.


    Ill Omen - Remnant Spheres Of Spiritual Equilibrium
    66. - (78%)

    After an uncharacteristically quiet year in 2012, Ill Omen have returned with one of the more cloying, imposing and disconcerting black metal releases of 2013. Hailing from Australia, I find what usually translates musically in to a sense of frosted northern pine forests and snow smothered rugged terrain is actually dragging the listener through an acrid and humid wasteland, where life struggles to thrive in red dust under a fiercely hot sun. The production is purposefully rough around the edges, with walls of dry hiss accompanying distant and wet sounding instrumentation. As with Frostagrath (also reviewed in this journal) the fact that the noisy production hasn’t been cleaned up just issues the listener a welcome challenge to the ear. I’m sure Ill Omen would be very happy (and I share these sentiments) for anyone who can’t see the merit and function in a lo-fi presentation, to just “fuck right off”. Subterranean Litany (Of Shadows Endless) is a genuinely compelling track which resonates further and further with repeated listens, burying me up to my neck in the crimson dirt playing host to so many inhospitable beasts, made bitter ugly through their rough journey in natural selection. With seriously spirit crushing riffs, Ill Omen flies a flag for what little dissonant and devastating art coalesces in the southern hemisphere.


    Sun Worship - Surpass Eclipse
    65. - (79%)

    Surpass Eclipse is an excellent Short EP from German black metal project Sun Worship. I can't say anything for the band being particularly unique, but like Mondvolland, Laster and Nagual, there's that extra quality and evidently honed sound present. With a tight vision and awesome production, this 13 minutes is a gift.


    Of Solitude and Solemn - Of Solitude and Solemn
    64. - (79%)

    Of Solitude and Solemn is an upstart project by the talented Joe Hawker, hailing from the UK and melding post-rock and melodic doom in ways that are actually really innovative and very fresh to my ears. The self titled EP contains two epic tracks with a combined length of 24 minutes. With not a moment wasted, the opening MONO-esque solo clean guitar section perfectly sets the scene and instantly exhibits the superlative level of musicality we're dealing with here. Of Solitude and Solemn has that dark, ethereal and almost psychedelic atmosphere practiced by Anathema around the Silent Enigma era, but if you can picture it, this intangible essence is silhouetted by something baring similarities to Esoteric’s writhing and all encompassing doom. The emotion is permanently fever pitched, whether we're hearing clean guitars, orchestral interludes or chugging gain with screamed vocals and scathingly epic lead harmonies. I'm interested to see how far this project goes - I'd love to see it translated to the live setting - and not that it matters to me at all, but I always have a hopeful curiosity for DIY projects with such ambitious arrangements – that curiosity being that they get the opportunity to fully display their capabilities with a studio album (with live drums and all the rest), so long as the music never loses that enduring creative spirit and soulful representation of the artist which home-recorded music brings to the surface without fail. Hear for yourself, generously name your price on bandcamp, so honour a simple but dying tradition, and be generous in return.


    Autumn's Kingdom - Autumn's Kingdom
    63. - (79%)

    Lush lo-fi atmospheric black metal with all the positive energy of Alcest. From Russia, exhibiting some emotionally seismic moments! Glad this band got a fine Autumn this year.


    Owl - You Are the Moon I Am the Night
    62. - (80%)

    This is a massive follow up album to Owl's self titled 2011 debut. The entities behind a few of the Zeitgeister (Label) bands are joined by the ever gaining-iconic-status, Herbst, of Lantlos/Lowcityrain fame, taking up bass duties here. Very long songs really need full attention to appreciate but the overall sound is this murky abundance of filth and anything that stirs that Lovecraftian existential torment has a definite place in my music collection.


    Altars - Paramnesia
    61. - (80%)

    Altars are an obscure death metal band from Melbourne Australia. Their brand of de-tuned rot, din and violation plunges into it's listener and causes turbulence in the central nervous system. Involuntary posturing may occur. Rhythmically this band has everything on their side, although the guitars lack girth production wise, the ideas are still phenomenal. Easily stands shoulder to shoulder with Portal and Impetuous Ritual and reminds me of an awesome death metal band from the UK called Acatalepsy. The more outfits like this, the better. Go stream and download on bandcamp!


    Galdr - Ancient Light of the Stars
    60. - (80%)

    Galdr is a solo project of atmospheric black metal based in the United States. The sensation instilled through creator Draugr’s helix like riffing is of blissful intoxication. There's a softness and subtlety in this dark presentation that mirrors natures silent secrets, like a healing moss, bare underfoot by some serene oasis. And yet the pressing urgency and volatile energy is also there, physically baring down. The mix and structures act as a gag for my thoughts and inner voice, and Ancient Light of the Stars often becomes my soul focus as I find myself becoming increasingly somnambulist and almost catatonic. I don't hold faith in superstition or magick, but I can certainly hear and feel an overwhelming ‘spellbound’ presence in this music, as if the frequencies themselves have been laced by the blessing of some shamanic sorcerer. Songs that can inspire and bait imagination like this are truly cherish-able.


    Ov Hollowness - The World Ends
    59. - (80%)

    Ov Hollowness is a solo project hailing from Canada. Mark R. is the heart and mind at work behind what can only be described as a vast and extreme musical landscape. Ov Hollowness shows a reach and ambition nothing short of visionary - when an old school black metal riff suddenly explodes into decadent melodic death metal. Modern black metal is possibly best description for this work (going by the big production, progressive structures/styles and the melodic content in general) and alongside bands like Agrypnie, the argument that modernity can only infringe on the true archaic spirit of black metal is being weakened further still (and for the better) . Things are not that cut and dry anymore. It's such a pleasure to listen to albums that can traverse separate territories in music without losing that all important central sense of character. From riff to riff the quality you hear challenges the very best output by bands that have risen to the top of the metal genre (bands such as Amon Amarth) and adding the important elements that fans of new or more obscure music crave - sophistication in the primal, epic and melodic compositions which connect with the specters of our ancestry in the callousness and ferocity of the delivery. The album is due out March18th through Code666 & Aural Music.


    Gehenna - Unravel
    58. - (81%)

    Black Metal from Norway carries an automated stamp of authenticity - it starts to look like these musicians can do little wrong, purely based on the geographical circumstance of their birth. But there really is more to it than that. And that is - we truly do become shaped, conditioned and influenced by our natural or even unnatural surroundings. Gehenna is very successful at simplistic, primal and secular black metal, with nullifying repetitions that seem to stretch out and emulate the expanse of Norwegian wilderness. Like Vemod, Gehenna feels like a culminating, leading-edge representation of what a nation with such an impeccable legacy should still be producing.


    Wrong - Memories of Sorrow
    57. - (81%)

    Wrong from Spain have risen out of nowhere with an incredibly strong five track album of cold and deeply gratifying depressive black metal. This has all the elements of a classic melodic bm album like Bloodhymns by Necrophobic, but also covers contemporary ground (thinking of bands like Agrypnie) by example - that massive drum sound, avant-garde vocals that cover every style and synths that are really symbiotic with the guitars. Speaking of the guitars, the riffing is absolutely excellent and very original - sometimes discordant and warped (like the intro to through This Slit which has an almost Jesus Lizard vibe to it) and sometimes it's very melodic. The sound is very polished and startlingly vital.


    Lohikarma - Dreaming Skies
    56. - (81%)

    This very earthen melodic black metal from Pakistan sounds every bit as spellbinding as it's contemporaries (Agalloch/early Anathema). The musical ideas take place over a thick bed of acoustic guitars, which are beautifully captured with resonant clarity and a thick atmosphere. When the dynamic swells in the more vast sections, the acoustic becomes a percussive feature and even issues a sort of ebb and flow to build certain sections, like in the song 'Take this Life' when a dissonant black metal riff thunders in and after a certain amount of repetitions, is lifted and developed by the reintroduction of the acoustics. That particular song is absolutely stunning but all the tracks are strong and remind me of that magic essence weaved into the sound of bands on peaceville back in their glory days.


    F41.0 - Near Life Experiences
    55. - (82%)

    Sadness, oppresion, anger and disgust all seem to ink the quill for F41.0, an enigmatic post black metal project from Germany, which creator ‘Hysteriis’ uses to reflect conditions of mental disorder, panic and anxiety. There are industrial tinges to this unrelenting musical masquerade for the agoraphobic, mainly emitted in the drums, which are double kick driven, mid-paced and hypnotic in their automation. The guitars are split between augmented doom-voiced chord sequences - tremolo picked over the striding rhythms and an upper guitar melody which envelopes the listener in a thriving and desperate grasp, delay and reverb giving these melodies an almost endless sustain, especially noticeable in the album’s title track, where one note just wails desperately through the whole piece, successfully creating a teeth grindingly intense atmosphere, as the shrill shepherd tone’s drones on and on as a continuo! The vocal delivery is one of sickened anguish and catharsis, and thanks to the brutal and plosive nuisances of the German language it becomes a music of its own, therefore not leaving behind listeners who don’t speak the language used as the frame work for these tortured outpourings. On a whole, a very impressive debut!


    Potmos Hetoimos - Maribel
    54. - (83%)

    Multi-instrumentalist, Matt Matheson returns with his ludicrously ambitious project, which sees sounds from every corner of what-metal-could-possibly-dare married together in an impossible play of emotional grotesque and progressive hunger. Name your price at bandcamp.


    Inexistenz - Erfundene Welten
    53. - (83%)

    Erfundene Welten is a sombre, despondent infliction of crucial dsbm by Inexistenz (a Slovenian solo project). With vocals grind-ed out through a pit-of-your-stomach sadness and cascading riffs that paint serene yet sorrowful scenarios, Erfundene Welten is successful at building an incredibly complex and emotional atmosphere out of a really rather stripped down arrangement. As I listen to this album, I find my attention to be on little else and since my first experience I've waited patiently for the perfect moment to explore such introspective and tortured offerings with due respect. The opportunity presented itself and I found this little known offering to be as transportational and moving as the very best hypnotic black metal. Whether tear jerking-ly slow or lacerating-ly fast, the mood is unchanging, making this a focused and extremely qualified early contender for the best dsbm album of the year.


    The Fall of Every Season - Amends
    52. - (83%)

    The Fall of Every Season is an excellent progressive metal solo project from Norway, With a definite vision and heaps of talent, 'Amends' is every bit as good as was expected. Busy and full arrangements, rich acoustics and gut wrenching distorted guitars playing a 'melodoom' somewhere between swallow the suns majestic melancholy and anathema's weepy progressive emotional rock. This is enough positivity for me to be able to deal with an obvious observation, that being both the screamed and clean vocals are identical to Mikael Akerfeldt's (of Opeth fame). I can hear that Marius Strand is singing with his TRUE voice though, so I can't criticize the project for this, only reflect on how for me it semantically raises issues that I have developed with Opeth over time. The size of this production is staggering, and certainly for more commercial metal enthusiasts, this should be complete soul-food - because where I find most commercial metal totally void of content, this project is packed with really scintillating moments.


    The Old Wind - Feast On Your Gone
    51. - (84%)

    Really intense progressive and sludgey post-metal from Sweden featuring an ex-member of Breach (also the spawning band of Terra Tenebrosa and Switchblade).


    Castevet - Obsidian
    50. - (84%)

    Castevet are a New York based three-piece who confidently stand astride a few genres and concepts, channelling multiple musical sensibilities simultaneously, exploring difficult and progressive timings with a primarily black metal arrangement. Fully justified as avant-garde, it has about the same ferocity as Krallice, who are from the same region and also apply frantic twists and turns to their style and delivery, at times more aligned with post-hardcore, and at times foggy dissonant and grim. Mellow moments, like the gothic and almost funeral-doom closer seat of severance, embellish a multi-faceted state further still, begging the question, is there any style of heavy music Castevet can't accurately depict and expand upon?


    Acacia - Tills doden skiljer oss at
    49. - (84%)

    The unexpected evolution of Livsnekad. Swedish DSBM moving into a more progressive and hopeful domain of creative opportunity. There are some astonishing flourishes of emotional and invigorating music on this album, with a twin peaks drenched atmosphere to boot.


    IDYLLS - Indian Circle
    48. - (84%)

    One of Brisbane’s absolute finest! Idylls open their new frenetic EP with frantic discordant hardcore, which grooves and grinds in equal, enviably devastating, measures. It's not hard to imagine this band annihilating with their abrasive aesthetic at a squat/house gig while heroic local Aussie followers beat the life out of each other in appreciation. The energy is infectious and gives me about the same shot of adrenaline a rabid animal might feel staring down the barrel of a rifle. The second half of ‘Indian Circle’ is funked-out, Jesus lizard-y, Primus imbibed blues-doom inflictions of harrowing sonic mischief, with the vocalist putting in a terrifying performance over bass lead riffs while the guitar hits clashing high chords. Name your price available on bandcamp.


    Arx Atrata - Oblivion
    47. - (85%)

    Arx Atrata is an ambient/symphonic black metal project hailing from the UK. It is satisfying for me to hear work from an artist of shared nationality which is as good as the German, Russian and Eastern European bands who execute this sort of epic black metal with surgical focus and stunning result. The music here is progressive, colourful but also hypnotic, maudlin and embittered. With every listen I find new corners that send an icy blast over my being. This band has only just announced its presence and has made an immediate impact. I’m really glad I discovered this album before moving on to 2014 and I’ll certainly follow Arx Atrata’s movements closely herein.


    Basarabian Hills - In The Stillness Of The Codrii
    46. - 85%

    There's a real need for the music Basarabian Hills offer, a project from Moldova making extremely ambient black metal with lead melodies that slowly dizzy the listener and a thick foliage of atmospheric, electronic and soft chords which evolve steadily and ritualistically with lo-fi drum machines adding that pastoral charm. There would've been a time when I might have found this very empty and un-stimulating, but now, this approach feels like a tsunami in slow motion, I can easily walk away from, effortlessly staying one step a head of it's crushing force, and instead finding the incomprehensible mass of water terrifying and tragic, it's broken down motions are more balletic and even sort of beautiful.


    Apocynthion - Sidereus Nuncius
    45. - (85%)

    These post black metal Spaniards arrived on the scene last year with a luminescent lantern for their respected musical niche in their astounding debut. They've exceeded themselves with Sidereus Nuncius, which is an emotional journey paralleling the mechanisms of inner and outer space . All these subtle notes, flavours and colours, from hope to despondency, despair to perseverance. The music is just as diverse as the obvious pier, Alcest and along side the likes of Les Discrets, this is probably one of the most thematically realized 'blackgaze' albums which hasn't come from the 'bedroom black metal' aesthetic, which I personally believe yields the most personal and touching results within this genre - but again, there's one thing the shoegaze-y black metal scene is missing and that is bands that deliver these magical, deep and complex compositions to a live stage setting. I commend Apocycnthion for doing that, and really hope to witness it for myself some day.


    Sannhet - Known Flood
    44. (85%)

    The ripples caused by Sannhett’s live performance are what lead me to checking them out, to my delight ‘Known Flood’ had, as if by fate, just dropped. The album is largely instrumental, and has a pitched intensity that only relapses between tracks in brief moments of sound design/samples. The music is in itself descriptive, dark, sharp and frenetic, like post-rock band Kokomo during their ear peeling epic moments but with added black metal like Bosse de Nage and occasional nods to Isis/Cult of Luna’s style of monolithic and engaging post-metal. This band reflects an accurate realisation of a very current blend of sounds admirably well, and provides me with everything my ears are thirsting for at the moment. I'm just envious that without a trip to the states, I'm probably not going to get to see this band doing what they do best anytime soon. I strongly advise checking out some of the quality live bootlegs provided by unARTigNYC on youtube.


    Cold Body Radiation - The Longest Shadow Ever Cast
    43. - (85%)

    Best material I've heard by M. by a long shot. Just very short for the price. The vocals sound incredible, as do all the subtle melodic electronics.


    Imperial Triumphant - Goliath
    42. - (86%)

    Rarely do I mention artwork in my reviews, and never before have I actually started a review with a comment on the bands artwork, but this really was a cover that sucked me in. It lead me to researching and having subsequent nightmares about methods of execution by elephants and even discovering that this picture was drawn by a journalist who witnessed the event unfold! To my delight, the music was a technical and suffocating barrage, as heavy as an elephant and delivered like it's hoof, crushing your face into a stone. Imperial Triumphant have spawned from the well of New York's avant-garde elitism, a scene which seems to provide absolutely nothing but the most sheer quality bands. This is a short EP, but is packed with ideas and has had me returning to it regularly, to bathe my psyche in the vexing tormented imagery Imperial Triumphant's total package begets.


    SUJO - Repent
    41. - (86%)

    This haunting blackened noise affair rakes its listener’s ears through the rubble of a decimated urban landscape. Hailing from Illinois, Sujo inject me with a chilling shot of fear, eliciting the ‘flight’ response - my heart is already pounding, the feet follow in honour of a faux sensation of being stalked by some twisted bio-organic titan, possessed by furious spectres. At night, this blend of the primal elements to Blut Aus Nord, the spiritual lavation of The Angelic Process and the cloying claustrophobia of Nadja creates a genuine presence in the room; a Shadow in the corner just outside of my peripheral vision, a calculating glare burns into my neck, it patiently waits till the moment comes for it to charge forward causing my heart to rupture from fear in a vagal inhibition. Sujo have also just dropped a second release this annum called ‘Ondan’, which is more minimal with long drone, noise and experimental sections. Repent flinches between malaise dirges and panic inducing static blasts. It is a haranguing unstable spiral coiling in on it self, portraying ugly industrial myther simultaneously with cumulus like hot plumes of ambience bellowing in and above the nettling assault. Go pay something for Sujo’s releases here: bandcamp


    Pogavranjen - Raspored Užasa
    40. - (86%)

    Pogavranjen are a Croatian avant-garde black metal band who really surprised me with their first full length Raspored Užasa. I’m instantly gratified by artfully dissonant guitar work and a unique, vastly primal vocal performance, which I can only really compare to the agonised, spiritual purging of Hupogrammos (Dordeduh and ex-Negura Bunget). The organic and focused aesthetic conjures nightmarish images, walking through narrowly parted trees, which twist and grow before my very eyes - the branches clutching and winding around and it's not until the eyes adjust that the truly grotesque nature of this nightmare is revealed. These trees have flesh. The branches are arms with hands and long fingers holding not leaves but clutching teeth and hair - silently screaming faces are adrift in the body of the trunk, with eyes rolling back violently to curse the infinity above for the infinity of torment which awaits them, swaying hypnotically in some tortured waltz of disfigurement – mocking of the idea that nature is beauty and opposing all serenity. Doom laden moments give this album an impressive depth and occasionally the energy reaches a fevered pitch and the riffs find grind territory, really hooking me in and adding to the already grating intensity. The band is sharing this album for free on mediafire but be kind and pay for it at bandcamp.


    Underling - Crows
    39. - (87%)

    Underling’s ‘Crows’ is three long-ish tracks of devastating, emotional and kaleidoscopic post-black metal with a tangible shoegaze influence. It opens with slow surges of enormous sound that resonate in a tidal state, similar to the oppressive and legendary walls of noise recorded by ‘The Angelic Process’. Distorted vocals in varying styles, from screamo to commanding blackened shouts and growls are delivered with a willful passion. The melodies glisten and the harmonic voice of the combined guitar parts is nautical in atmosphere. The songs end suddenly and it always shocks me how quickly the sound crumbles inward, but I think the band is genuinely making a point of un-convention here and maybe also artistically trying to reflect on fragility. I also feel like the songs might be looking at the mortality of the dismembered gentlemen on the EPs cover, in which case the sudden endings could be reflecting on the moment the victims passed away (I’m sure things do go suddenly quiet the moment you’re decapitated - but how would I know). Who knows? When Underling are unleashing their full fury, it is harrowing and ecstatic all in one and in ‘Crows’ this band have delivered one of the most promising and focused sounding shoegaze black metal releases I’ve heard in a long time.


    Underling - Breathe Deeply
    38 - (88%)

    Really interesting. Turns out "Crows" ( ^ ) was only prototypes of the songs which now appear here, in a more pristine presentation. Breathe Deeply sees underling losing the accursing production in favour of a more aurally digestible approach. The songs are reworked to a point where I feel in no way short changed listening to it, and Seizures Over Sullen Water is an entirely new experience anyway. Underling is all about catharsis, asservating experiences which made the band's main creative force's life quite out of the ordinary. Hear and absorb the pain as it is so expertly released. Go listen and buy at bandcamp.


    Csejthe - Reminiscence
    37. - (88%)

    This Canadian melodic black metal onslaught holds a candle up to the dark and takes the listener on a descriptive and volatile journey. Reminiscence was like a twin to Vallendusk's 'Black Clouds Gathering' for me, dropping at the start of spring, the perfect season for this kind of listening. The way the beat falls out in the albums title track and a new frighteningly expressive chord sequence comes in, it's like for a moment we're lost, until cohesive elements introduced back into the fold. The drums are expertly executed in this steady application of tension, once the choirs are in, you can comfortably vanquish any doubt that we are dealing with one of 2013's TRUE epics. Can you suggest it's possible to light a fire under Drudkh? Some might argue not, but that's exactly what Csejthe sounds like to me. The melodic chorus in L'antique Blason is another unexpected slap in the face


    Black Autumn - The Advent October
    36. - (88%)

    Black Autumn is a crushing ambient black metal solo project from Germany which has an impressive looking back catalogue stretching all the way back to 1993! I have to admit, this EP has been my introduction to the doom-laden monolithic journey composer Krall has been dragging his listeners through for 20 years. This ticks so many boxes for me, with epic stacked up compositions which ascend from climactic highs to dizzying and ecstatic exhalations. The drums remind me of Livsnekad or Norway's Funeral, with the massive sounding snare and kick drum combination which really batter the listeners spirit. The chords used have all the elements of the most successful DSBM and doom with soaring melodies that touch on the cathartic dream-like qualities of a movement forefronted by bands like Alcest, Les Discrets and Lantlos.


    Yellow Eyes - Hammer Of Night
    35. - (88%)

    Strong post black metal with really grating and well considered guitar parts that lift this out of the general murk surrounding this genre at the moment.


    Dormant Ordeal - It Rains, It Pours
    34. - (89%)

    This Polish goliath is an extravagantly contorted entity of the most optimal, savage and technical death metal. The production leaves me gasping! It is so full and clear and doesn’t tire the ear, despite the haranguing barrage of instrumentation. All the flutter picking and staccato rhythms in the guitar riffs are deliciously tight. The crunchy skittering embellishments are almost felt on the roof of the mouth. The drumming is clinical and surgically precise, and it doesn't surprise me to read Dormant Ordeal was once the drummer’s solo project. And the concepts aren’t about monsters or Satan etc. but instead focus on a far more identifiable subject, this being the most negative facets of the human condition and the darker failings of apparently civilized society. These days it seems to take another level of quality for me to pay attention to this genre of music, the last album of this ilk to really clutch my attention was Mitochondrion’s ‘Parasignosis’, but this almost divine ability (technicality and in song craft) is impossible to ignore! It Rains, It Pours is an infectious and sublime listening experience.


    Bölzer - Aura
    33. - (89%)

    There's a certain amount of sheer lunacy laced in the crushing death metal, which steamrolls over me, twisting me into a contorted, grinning slowly dying mess, using my last breaths to hum Bölzer riffs. New Zealand born but Swiss based, it's easy to work out how mountainous etymology is translated into a riffing style that's so huge, it amuses and entertains. With every change of section I find myself coughing out an "urgh" or an "oof" like a Pantera fanboy with tourettes. Some of the tremolo picked riffs are played with such blurring speed, I imagine a humongous, winged centaur gliding through the cosmos and punching and slapping stars and planets out of existence, just for the glee of it, like a young child popping bubbles, or a cat chasing flies. There's a definite alcohol soaked rock'n'roll feel to this that is reminiscent of the punkier/grindier early Mastodon material, and this element gives Bölzer an almost fun/party-ish vibe that puts a smile on my face - but combined with some seriously streamlined menace and brutallity, it all makes for a perfect accompaniment to a heroic drinking session. This is a really rare sound, so uplifting, energetic and moving - I can't wait for more.


    Thy Light - No Morrow Shall Dawn
    32. - (89%)

    Brazilian DSBM with great ambient sections and really epic guitars. The Bridge is a track that really stands out and I find myself returning to it separately on a fair few occasions. Not negating also the album's title track which features Tim Yatras (Of Austere, Woods of Desolation and Germ fame), and has some devastatingly emotional progressions.


    Lycus - Tempest
    31 - (89%)

    This is execrable doom of an abhorrently twisted nature, broadcasting nefarious mirth from Oakland California. One can only comprehend the perishing riffs and caustic atmosphere by submitting to the harmonic sonance unconditionally and exhaustively. If Nightbringer reshaped their melodic woes to tie in closer with Esoteric's pace and arrangement, Lycus could be the result. Listen and buy at bandcamp.


    Redwood Hill - Descender
    30. - (90%)

    This is one of the heaviest albums I've heard in quite while. Redwood Hill are a Danish band displaying an unbelievably chameleonic aural profile, from emotive and grinding black metal to massive go-for-the-throat post-hardcore. I would really struggle to find a band to compare this to, but Celeste is the closest sound I can gander. During some of the sludgier riffs (admittedly all the riffs are filthy), the chord changes are so bleak, expressive and sorrowful that it jars the soul. This thing is dripping with angst and pours fog from every orifice. These days, to enjoy hardcore elements in music like ‘breakdowns’ as anything other than a guilty pleasure, they have to be done exquisitely well, but Redwood Hill can have a staccato chug section and over it there seems an immense cloud of sound that diffuses gloom in some spectacularly pissed off display. And bands like this can go from satisfying and pleasurable, to really quite genius by observing the quality of their quieter moments – this band carries their intensity into quaint piano lead moments and these compositional achievements, which stay consistent to the main concept, reflect on a truly successful album.


    Vallendusk - Black Clouds Gathering
    29. - (90%)

    Vallendusk are a cold and pale light of energy from Indonesia. Their vicious and unrelenting technique, applied to an epic framework of modern metal and folk thrusts my emotions to breathless altitudes where I find in spite of the black metal ferocity, I'm imbued with joy and an appreciation of the seasons with every spin. The song writing has everything, sections don't dwell and yet there's an immaculately smooth flow between ideas. As I'm a bit behind on my reviews, I need to make this comment retrospectively, but paired with Csejthe's epic Reminiscence, I had definitely found the soundtrack to what was the encroaching spring. Now even well into the summer, I return and appropriately still feel made to reflect on the natural world. Fans of projects, the likes of Woods of Desolation will find a warm fire already smouldering away when they arrive in the wing of the natural shelter Vallendusk create during 'Black Clouds Gathering', and what a perfect place to rest with meat and ale to safely observe the elements.


    Gorguts - Colored Sands
    28. - (90%)

    A massive infliction of challenging death metal mastery! It retains it's heaviness even though it implements a colossal dynamic range, with a lot of the most impressive and punishing moments having a pretty much clean guitar tone. Gorguts remain atop their respected musical field, even after 12 relatively inactive years.


    Hope Drone - Hope Drone
    27. - (90%)

    Hope Drone are a truly ferocious post-black metal effort from Brisbane Australia. When I first lay my ear upon their glorious and fractious sound, it took me less than ten seconds to decide they were worthy of investment. Now as I listen through fully to the self titled EP, any doubts I might have had about this group have been completely shattered. Categorically it probably does share the same genetics as bands like Wolves In the Throne Room, Deafheaven and Bosse-de-Nage, but I’d trace things further back to one of the forefathers of what eventually evolved to being this more market friendly brand of black metal, this band being the astounding ‘Weakling’, and with that in mind Hope Drone are displaying all that edginess and talent and none of the pretentiousness which doesn't allow me to fully engage with bands like Liturgy (admittedly all the bands mentioned above, I really enjoy and listen to quite regularly). The crazy weather we've had in the UK lately has become a symptom of Hope Drone's music for me - cold cutting winds laced with snow is abrasive and dreamlike all at once, giving a full sensory experience. This release is heavy hitting, emotionally charged and expertly crafted and I have little doubt it will very quickly find a vast and devoted audience. The band is offering a 'name your price' on this EP, generosity like this should in itself be rewarded by a noble exchange of coin - bandcamp - the music itself is priceless.


    When Woods Make Graves - Whispers From The Black Lake
    26. - (90%)

    Up until very recently, I'd never heard the name 'When Woods Make Graves', but when I was told it was an expertly done, distant and hazy sounding one man black metal project from Liverpool, I couldn't wait to medicate my spirit on these offerings. As expected this album completely occupied me with a sense of isolation, sorrow, wonderment and gave me my first dose of some desolate Merseyside docks during mid-winter ice storms at some bewitched hour - where no organic presence should have any business, with thick sea fog swirling around your legs, creaking worm eaten wooden planking underfoot and black hungry seas gumming at the algae smirched walled-in shores beneath it all. Never mind the UKBM bands currently flying the flag of this nation’s black metal character, while there are projects like this - as married to the sea and as sown from old northern soil as music can be! After close to forty minutes I arrive at lashings of extended ambience which lull me into a false sense of decelerating to a resolution in the form of the album’s moving 17 minute minimalistic melodically-obsessive-compulsive title track ‘Whispers from the Black Lake’ - and the equally enlightened, cosmic pacing of ‘Ritual Light’, Then and only as the punishing and visceral progressive black metal displayed during the first half of the album becomes a distant memory, we are adorned, enlightened and consumed by the albums highlight, a 'black rose immortal' style epic masterwork entitled Adorned by Moonlight. I'll say no more - name your price on bandcamp.


    Kokomo - Kokomo
    25. - (91%)

    Kokomo is an instrumental vortex of truly cutting post metal by four men from Duisberg, Germany. Walking through the city where I work, listening to fourth track - Ein Dachs Hat Zweifel, while the elements pulled against me I felt shielded by Kokomo’s harmonic cloak, a saxophone solo tempered very similarly to Bohren and Der Club of Gore’s work on Black Earth, the build up in this song, wrenching me on against biting cold winds. Exactly as poignant and moving as instrumental post rock should be, Kokomo cast you into the storm while simultaneously empowering you to withstand it. It’s like flagellation and preservation dancing to natures’ furious rhythms. The opening track, Kaputt Finker has been available for a while and is certainly one of the album’s highlights, with an initial explosion of melody that any fan of emotional and heavy music will be instantly hooked on. This section has already found its way deep into my bones and when it returns at the end of the track I am in awe of Kokomo’s divine choice of timing. Pay what you like at bandcamp (accurate at the time of publishing this review) and the album is available in various formats from I.CORRUPT.RECORDS.


    Nagual - Zgliszcza
    24. - (91%)

    Nagual is a solo musician from Poland making highly engaging, vicious and deeply moving music about life, death and nature (this is not the same as the death/doom metal band from the Ukraine). Modern black metal, when executed as expertly as displayed on Zgliszcza, covers so much territory, from emotions expelled in the vocals, to progressive structures using subtle re-introduction of melodic themes throughout the whole EP that challenge me mentally to divulge my attention and finally to the raw physicality of the pristine and dynamic production. The last EP I heard that had such an effect on me was 2012’s Pestvogel by Mondvolland. The drum sound here is so absolute, the hands at work provided by guest musician ‘Bestia’ (full time drummer in technical/industrial melodic death metal band Thy Disease). His performance here must have delighted Nagual, as it displays truly stunning acrobatics and supports the malevolent expression in the music. The double bass and blast-beats are a true pleasure to behold. Nagual’s vocals are also about as perfect for this sort of music as a sentient organism’s voice could be driven to provide, with full-bodied rasps rattling in a thick and sorrowful tone and moments when the emotion erupts at the end of a vocal line, inflicting a heart wrenching and broken yowl that stuns me to my core. I've already begun telling friends I've found a new favourite vocalist. To hear the sum total of his ominous and punishing outpourings the EP is available in physical format direct from nagual (contact details available through bandcamp ) or from his label. This taster is also available.


    Deafheaven - Sunbather
    23. - (91%)

    I've had a recent lull in review writing and it has lead to an intimidating backlist of stuff to get through. I partially blame Sunbather for this, as for some reason big releases can give me writer’s block – to excuse myself, I think this is because so many people have had their say on this work and I didn't want to either trip over someone else’s ideas or find myself being objectionable over some of the choice descriptions I’ve read and found pretty inaccurate. Now all that's out of sight and mind and I actually feel slightly awake for the first time in two months - hopefully I can get back on the mission. This fourth release by deafheaven is by far their best work - and that’s not to the discredit of the demo or ‘Roads to Judah’, which both helped the band carve their firm and exciting niche. But Sunbather? Sunbather! With guitars that seem to flawlessly and effortlessly conjure the most beautiful and sophisticated chord sequences accompanied by heart wrenching, epic and expressive embellishments - this harmonic journey is not only a fresh approach within the black metal landscape, but as far as the horizon, the territory seems unfamiliar. This album definitely contains black metal, as far as an aural energy goes, but if you’re the type to procrastinate over descriptions you’ll vehemently defend the stance that this is obsolete from that particular crowd - and infact, purists would be excused for vomiting blood and spitting fire out of their ears (or whatever) at the thought of allowing some handsome, young, cocksure San Franciscans anywhere near their precious kvlt of ugliness, bitterness, morbidity and despair. But the fact remains, this draws on black metal for it's fervour. I've tried to hear a wasted moment on this album, a cut corner, but I can't and it's not there. I even love the interludes. I really thought I was going to have an issue with the fact that the atmosphere comes across as a sort of suffocating love-sick suburban tragedy, with life really getting on top of these kids who’ve just found talent comes very easy (it’s easy to feel envious), but then I found myself picturing this atmosphere through the more critical and objective lens offered in the spirit of films like American Beauty, or the graphic novels of Daniel Clowes (think Ghost World) and Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings). So in short, the reason why everyone’s talking about Sunbather is it’s a genuine masterpiece with an incomprehensible breadth of appeal. It’s impossible not to feel – from passion to loss and longing to contentment… just… something… when those melodies find you.


    Nhor - Within The Darkness Between The Starlight
    22. - (91%)

    A UK based solo project which emotively covers a host of musical shades with an astounding finesse - snapped up by one of the best/most selective labels in darker emotional music Prophecy Productions. The gent behind Nhor is actually into his astronomy too, which is probably why the elements of the album which are inspired by the dark infinite sea of wonders are played out with genuine sincerity. The song Rohmet Etarnu is a must-must-must hear and alone makes this a strong contender for a break-through underground album of the year!


    UR - Ur
    21. - (91%)

    Self titled debut full-length touches all the same buttons as my favourite doom band Omega Massif but is distinguishable by differing structures and themes. Really spectacular climaxes and a joyous production.


    So Hideous - Last Poem/First Light
    20. - (91%)

    A project self-styled on delivering 'cinematic' music within the parameters of just about every really vital current convention, is realized with surprising results. My first listen I expected to just dip my toe in and come back to it, and despite not being a huge fan of the horror inspired diminished constructions in the opening track, which was a little like metallic hardcore melding with the more symphonic and cheesy black metal of bands like Dimmu Borgir (I've heard other bands doing similar things and calling it "blackcore", and it just made me shudder), but I kept my toe in and ended up transfixed by what was to come. It's impossible to describe in words how joyously epic this is while retaining a haranguing, bitter, misanthropic abrasion. From section to section, the driving force is this pervasive and ambitious sense that every change has to be a lift to either more epic or heavier planes, how they achieve this to each song's end when each track begins with a riff most bands would be happy to settle as their career defining moment, I just can't fathom. The only down point is the production hates my ears, as in the mix is so loud and mastered to such a bricked in level that listening at a volume I really desire leaves my right ear shreaded (the guitars are hard panned and the lead tone on the right at certain points is torturous (I'm aware this makes me sound like a bit of an old man) ). I can fully appreciate the need for this to sound massive though, so I only mention that in a cursory sense for anyone who gets how much I adore what So Hideous have achieved On Last Poem/First Light in musical terms.


    Terra Tenebrosa - The Purging
    19. - (91%)

    Terra Tenebrosa are an enigmatic collective from Sweden, whose debut album ‘The Tunnels’ had all the makings of a genre defying musical milestone. The Purging takes all the twisted, energised, decaying sound signatures to heavier, more depraved depths. If you imagine Virus, but replace the rock elements with a cold industrial feeling, like the creepy automated atmosphere Blut Aus Nord integrate. This album moves swiftly from an ambient intro to three tracks of maddening, spiralling, death rattle riffs, which thanks to a bewitching use of time signatures, never seem to fully resolve and as a result, create truly ear-catching brain food for new music fans. Groove driven, sludge infused drumming, jumping between straight and syncopated/off-beat rhythms which are full of quirky twists and tumbling turns, compliment the unending cerebral journey in the clashing avant-garde melodies. A ritualistic break in the middle of the album invites a more ambient and less aggressive arrangement - but this is aural poetry and offers just as dark a perspective as the vast and volatile compositions to follow. The release of this album was celebrated with a live ceremony, and it is my hope that Terra Tenebrosa intend to create a performance legacy to honour the two glorious albums they’ve gifted us with so far.


    Seirom - Sparkle Night
    18. - (91%)

    Seirom is a project by Mories, known best for his work in ‘Gnaw Their Tongues’. For an artist’s output to be so polarised is disbelieving… from the discordant, invasive and malicious sonic thrashings of GTT to this; the almost divine, inviting and melancholic ambient threnody which is Seirom! The sounds on offer in this blinding spectrum of influences could not be more aligned to my tastes right now - with a distant storm of various indefinable distortions that could envelope any mountain range, to the orographic melodies searching within this foggy spiritual haze – percussion so distant it could be the ancient sound of long dead neighbouring stars violently erupting into complete supernova. The harmonic colours here are an intense hue viewed as a blur in a prism, which twists and refracts unpredictably. ‘Only Miss you When it Snows’, aside from having a piercingly poignant and poetic title, also creates music onomatopoeic of such a nostalgic suggestion. I find myself thinking of friends, laughing in high-contrast against the rolling frozen hills which nestled my childhood home, or my first son sleeping in my arms, while I whispered any old meanderings of the heart as they bubbled to the surface with a blizzard of animated tiny white flakes of energy and light painting the streets where we play in better weather with a soft and calming blanket of beauty. This is why the repeat button was invented. To hear for yourself, make a small donation at bandcamp.


    Inter Arma - Sky Burial
    17. - (91%)

    You'll be forgiven for admitting sky burial is an experience, truly without comparison. With death doom vocals rattling in unadulterated pleasure, over a mixture of pummellingly slow, tooth looseningly fast, progressive rock, blackened sludge, stoner doom and even skeezy blues jams. And yet more central than any other band mixing conventions in this realm, Inter Arma stay discordant, wise, physical, overwhelming and emotional, absolutely never straying from a very focused musical goal. The only way to succinctly picture this is to imagine Ancestors and Gorguts combining creative forces.


    Regarde Les Hommes Tomber - REGARDE LES HOMMES TOMBER
    16. - (92%)

    I don't think anyone would dare suggest Neurosis exercised restraint during the creative process of ‘Times of Grace’, but supposing their barren and apocalyptic heaviness could've ascended? RLHT could supposedly answer a question, that without hearing their self titled LP, a person would be forgiven for thinking the very nature of such a proposal was a trick or some kind of rhetoric. The blackened vibes to this eye-pealing, groove leaden, gorgon of sludge could deteriorate the will of a starving predator, or galvanise its helpless prey! The scope of this album’s appeal is huge, as the heavier riffing practices that slack and open stringed tone (honed by Meshuggah), while an upper part smatters darker, more dissonant arpeggios akin to Ved Buens Ende’s avant-garde. The vocals are a high point, sounding so irksome and enraged, as is the drumming, which is just perfectly suited. We've had some crippling snow here in the UK this week. This perfect accompaniment couldn't have dropped into my inbox at a better time as I was shut in and absorbing this until I just had to go outside and plunge my fists into the snow, channeling some of the latent aggressive energy Regarde Les Hommes Tomber seem to imbue. I rarely comment on an album’s artwork, but I found this piece alluring and discovered it was produced by the intoxicatingly peculiar (meant in the nicest possible way) team of French graphic designers at Førtifem. This album is due out 30th March via Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions.


    Černá - Restoring Life
    15. - (93%)

    Černá managed to make a huge impact on the post metal and blackgaze community, of which, it is fair to say, once a project makes a few ripples, all knowing followers of this music become aware. When Černá first appeared last year with a frighteningly strong couple of demo tracks, I found myself instantly impatient in waiting for Restoring Life. It has proven to be worth that long wait and then some! The project belongs to Cody, a seasoned young drummer from Michigan who learnt the guitar specifically to be able to realise an instrumental concept about one imagined day of love and serenity in the Czech Republic’s capital city of Prague. For someone reasonably new to the six string, he shows a genuine flare for song craft and manages to pull just the right amount of influence in from Lantlos and the Deftones to keep his music entirely formidable. His passion for omitting soundscapes that create a sort of, emotional sensory overload leave a feeling in the chest and stomach brought on by a level of expression that only artist’s of a certain calibur seem to be able to put into practice. There are so many moments I find physically stirring on this album. Embrace the Stars is one such song that probably reaches furthest to the truest depths of my spirits ability to follow musical discourse. Also, by the time title track ‘Restoring Life’ hits, it feels like Cody shouldn’t have any tricks left in the bag. Oh but he does. Also, to make further comment on the background in drumming - the faster the better here - and it's even more delightful that the blast beats are kept cleverly in reserve for those extra special monumental melodic progressions. I can't wait for more, as I feel with every song we get to know Cody a little better and someone with such a power to 'give', is a person I want to learn about through their perfected wordless art. bandcamp.


    Neronoia - Sapore Di Luce E Di Pietra
    14. - (93%)

    Neronoia is an Italian project procuring impenetrably emotive forces, aggregated with a sound that begs some immediate comparisons, each in their own way being cavernously personal to me. The first existing schematic chord the band strokes, is of a similarity to neo-folk band Tenhi! The vocalist has an almost identical richness and music in his often sombre, sometimes whispered and sometimes choral conveyance. Gianni Pedretti’s voice is striking exceedingly deep notes within me, and also like Tenhi, language barriers matter not. In fact this just means I can fully immerse myself in the musical and emotional language, which is subjectively universal. Although judging by the awesome title of the album, which translates as ‘Taste of Stone and Light’, I’m certain the lyrics are beautiful too. The other comparison I would make is in the music itself, which summons the same spine tingling, intellectually stimulating sensory disturbance created by Ulver’s stronger material, with electronic glitches and samples often rhythmically marching over piano melodies, pad sounds and other analogue melodic voices. The combination of digital, ghostly mechanisms and sombre organic swells of experimental mood music providing the backing for the multi-layered voice, which is produced to feel like the lips are only inches away from your ears, is a combination bordering on a revelation for me. Track XXIV is one of my favourites here - it just creates such unusual emotional weather in me, like a blizzard at sea in ultra slow-motion. The album is available from Eibon Records as of the 22nd of December.


    Our Ceasing Voice - That Day Last November
    13. - (93%)

    This truly outstanding post-rock band (with a difference) hail from Austria and wield the ability to emotionally possess their listener with an enchanting use of dynamics and songs paced so patiently and tenuously that carry through serenity, only occasionally to arrive at a ferocious climax. Some bands have a strange immediacy - when this occurs I can end up putting off writing their review for a while. It’s hard to really verbally excavate the effect ‘That Day Last November’ has on me, knowing music is such a personal thing and that the special elements here might not move another’s spirit in the way it seems to manhandle mine - as if it were a newborn child at it’s seasoned, paternal loving hand. Everything is expertly thrown into the mix during the longevity of a track like ‘One of these Nights’ with interesting sound design, muttered spoken word, synths, piano, steadily tempering drums. This sounds like nothing else in my music collection, despite lending from music, which is usually flawed through its ubiquitous conventions. All this is largely helped by a glistening production which allows the deep synth chords so much space and clarity melodically, and speaking of melody – the success of this band quite simply comes down to impeccable chord sequences. With each listen (this album has been on repeat since its release date!) I notice new and special details used to build and flow their compositions to the tear jerking heights they're capable of. I’ve been mentally and emotionally compartmentalising this album in the same storage space as Anathema - the quality on display here holds me close and still in the same way.


    Fyrnask - Eldir Nott
    12. - (93%)

    Fyrnask is a black metal solo project from Germany. Creator 'Fyrnid' waxes his bow with nature, folklore and ritual to create some of the deepest felt timbres and passages of music inflicted on listeners in 2013. Instances that haunt you, instances that hunt you and instances that heal you, lacing sections of ambience with found sounds and sound design to literally drag your ear out into the wilderness. A massive variety of feels to the smartly programmed rhythms and a host of playing styles in the guitars keeps the experience alive and vibrant from one minute to the next. Other than the atmospheric outro, closing track Síaiða is an absolute feast for the imagination, with a recurring melodic theme running through it's rotten core, and finally absolving in a huge fluttering, rhythmic riff.


    Erlen Meyer - Erlen Meyer
    11. - (94%)

    Erlen Meyer remit emotionally disarming sludge with a devastating attention to tone capitalized by expressive down-tuned chords, conveying decadence in a stacked up sonic incursion. The band is from France, and their geographical gene pool’s influence can be heard from the spat-out ‘spoken word’ sections, wutheringly charged with intensity - To the urging and punitive grooves which ascend to meaningful plains with discordant chords shepparding and asseverating the bands emotional infirmity. There are some fantastic moments where the bass riff is tied tightly to fluttering and progressive kick drum patterns while the guitars suck away any joy that could be gained from this display with ethereal plumes of atonal exploration, a dirge purveying so much smog it could be used in chemical warfare. When albums are this ferocious, I usually like letting the whole thing wash over me in one psyche sabotaging hit, but Erlen Meyer have some tracks that shine to a point where I find myself returning to them for an individual listen. One such track is ‘Bec et Ongles’. That beast gets stuck in my ears and I end up spending whole days humming the tragic melody and imagining that immense rhythm convulsing underneath. The sorrow felt in each hit of the snare, change of chord, and spat syllable is extremely tangible in Erlen Meyer and this harrowing reflects on the tragedy which befell the group when shortly after recording – the bands drummer died suddenly in a traffic accident. The maudlin spirit of the friends and band mates left behind are honoured in each passing phrase of this music, which needed no pretext to utterly devastate its listener principally.


    paramnesia - CE QUE DIT LA BOUCHE D'OMBRE
    10. - (95%)

    This little know French project is making some of the most seething and dynamic post black metal I've ever heard, with crucially honest and organic production, Paramnesia constructs Babylonian masterpieces of progressive, emotional and harmonic design. The Corrosive/abrasive sound, with a really rough and ringy snare drum, distant throaty shouts and yelps and suffocating guitars makes me feel the stripped down hi contrast aesthetic and punk etiquette in throttling abundance. The two tracks are broken up by a spirit cyphon-ingly dark sample where all the pain in the riffs are brought to their most poignant and subtly cutting moment. The music here is so effective, I've often found myself being stirred to an un-blinkered state, where the underlying cruelness of the world we live in bubbles to the surface and is hard to ignore.


    The Body - Christs, Redeemers
    9. - (95%)

    With a reputation as one of the weirder, more over-whelming and just down right nasty left-field experimental doom bands, The Body bring their perfectly judged cacophony of masoconventionism to eerie new spectacular heights with the much anticipated ‘Christs, Redeemers’. With murderous folky ballads provided by a female vocalist over droning tonal poems, there is also new emotional threads being sewn, particularly in ‘Night of Blood In a World Without End’ when the line "The pain of living holds no victory" reigns out over the preceding filth ridden, amp blowing scuzz fuzz and battery. I could always imagine Lee Buford and Chip King wryly grinning as they implemented their earth shattering compositional arsenal, but during ‘Christs, Redeemers’ it feels like the earth, sky and waters turn to grey and happiness or joy is recognised as just a pitiful little spark, neurons firing to protect and blanket us, an emotion that serves very little evolutionary purpose and, actually, the pursuit of joy or beauty or contentment could be reflected upon as a very counter intuitive or destructive thing, seen as though it is always relevant to one’s circumstance. People who wilfully pursue their own happiness probably only enjoy short lived relationships, are unreliable, are at a base level deeply selfish. But they're happy so surely that's the meaning of living? If you ask me, that’s cold and wrong and sort of fundamentally ignorant. Once again, happiness is no more than a fizzy bit of electricity in your head. The vast majority of life doesn't even have the capacity to be ‘happy’. It just does and is and fulfilling real instincts that nurture the body is energy better spent than hungering for a mirage of a feeling that just moves further away every time you grasp it for a moment. ‘Denial of the Species’ is one of the stronger tracks The Body have ever produced, with that characteristic trip-hoppy glitch under the dredging hopelessly punishing guitar.


    Rorcal - Világvége
    8. - (95%)

    At first I was wondering if I’d been miss-sold this behemoth of blackened sludge - when the album opened by dropping edifying monolithic slabs of doom at my feet for 10 minutes. It sounds like Világvége has climaxed and started winding down before this 5 piece from Switzerland have even had chance to begin. I had to question – first, whether I’d got the track order correct and second, was it a good decision by Rorcal to initiate their blackened ritual with dehumanising, decaying doom? Well as it turns out the majestic decelerating droning riffs succeed in making the listener extremely vulnerable to the scathing, monumental lashings to follow. Unrelenting walls of scuzz and groove-laced ferocity all channel intensely dark musical energies and it leaves me utterly ecstatic. The only brief break from the oppressive chaos comes in the guise of haunting choir lead interludes, which inject gothic sensibilities into this otherwise organic mauling by tooth and claw. In all honesty, the less said about this project the better - the sooner you can go shorten your own life-expectancy with this flagellating depiction of an aural apocalypse.


    Altar of Plagues - Teethed Glory and Injury
    7. - (96%)

    Since this Irish bands humble conception, they have slowly amassed the favour of being a fore founder of the post black metal genre. With furious live performances and a series of totally unique releases, the band headed by James Kelly, brought their legacy to a pivotal moment before closing the gates once and for all earlier this year. ‘Teethed Glory and Injury’ has stirred up many feelings and divided crowds rather drastically - from scathing knee jerk reactions, to utter bafflement and wonderment. I sit in the second category. Monochromal, static and overwhelming guitar parts fill this heinously creepy production with a naive feeling of exploration and catharsis through the very most basic of violent expression. Using producer/engineer/musician Jamie Gomez, who has worked with massive names in heavy music including three of Ulver’s recent releases, was a fantastic choice for embellishing on the haunted and glitchy atmosphere. You feel the collaboration at work with James Kelly bringing these artistic ideas to the live room and Jamie Gomez picking up on where some extra programming would work a treat. A lot of that is in and around moments that might have just been feedback and some drums building up on previous albums. My favourite track is Burnt Year. It is literally painful to listen to. The torment in the voice, and the immense pulse created in the off beat percussion. The song seems to be a very honest recollection of unthinkable tragedy. I can relate to some of the subject matter, which is probably why the song has a very strong effect on me. I always loved Altar of Plagues most during their more minimal moments with either yelped or even sung passages over a thorny bed of distant drums and toothless cacophony, before often the bite returns in a scintillating, uniform but totally individual firestorm of modern, urban and introverted sonic malcontent.


    Clouds Collide - Until the Wind Stops Blowing...
    6. - (96%)

    Clouds Collide is a solo project by Chris Pandolfo. This is tear jerking music, which has refined the boundaries of emotionally-centric atmospheric black metal, providing a near perfect representation of the blackgaze concept. From the dulcet melding of distant, reverb drenched melodic instruments, to the icy sounding drums, all held in place with static sermon vocals which sit perfectly in the mix, Until The Wind Stops Blowing... is an achievement worthy of every accolade the underground community are bestowing upon it. From the moment the album begins, you feel a heavy knee on your chest, pushing you down into a dark corner of your inner being. The guitars sound like they've been pulled away leaving only ghosts of the riffs behind. It's a wispy, un-clutch-able essence. The drums have a really unique sound too, mainly in the pristine detail captured and mixed for the cymbals, specifically the hi-hats which sound so close and articulated, they really reflect that abstract crumbling and breaking apart sensation, which is felt as a tugging in my chest during the most whirlwind moments on the album. If you can imagine the desire, drama and craft of Sleeping Peonies with the projective, meditative transmissions of Godspeed you! Black Emperor, you’re probably close to conjuring the serene turmoil Chris has made ‘reality’. I listen to and depend on music to be able to continue to function, and sometimes a nice bleak song is all that’s needed to ‘thaw’ me out emotionally - Until the Wind Stops Blowing... just shatters me with a single calculated blow. Delighted to hear this will be given the 'Little Nemo In Slumberland' treatment by the conceptually driven independent label, Khrysanthoney Records (plans being laid for a physical release in the very near future). For now: 'Name Your Price' on bandcamp.


    Pensées Nocturnes - Nom d'une Pipe !
    5. - (96%)

    Pensées Nocturnes should need no introduction... and yet ashamedly, I have to admit that until now I have only ever indulged in thumbnail sized sonic bites of their output and never quite felt encouraged enough to explore their secrets. ‘Nom d’une Pipe !’ is an album that won’t allow me to enjoy its treasures from a distance and instead completely immerses me in the disturbing world its private exhibition births. Enveloped in sorrow, mischief, anger and play - I am experiencing music with the same sort of uncontainable excitement we usually stop feeling after the passing of our youth, when the nature of our musical spirit was primitive and easily satisfied. I frequently listen to music while commuting at unearthly hours. And so quite often I start to doze – usually sleeping very lightly. However, on two occasions I’ve actually dreamt while travelling and listening to this LP. This has never happened before. On the first occasion I had a ‘waking dream’ where someone was explaining to me the mechanics of successfully executing a stabbing, while offering his own body as target practice for me to demonstrate my understanding of his imparted techniques. The second time I dreamt I was viciously scratching a tattoo into a persons elbow and lower arm against their will, then trying to rub a powdered ink into the wound? Both dreams were extremely uncharacteristic for me, but thinking about it scientifically, I’m sure it’d be an amazing coincidence for the music not to have had something to do with the brutal and vivid actions carried out in my semi-conscious state? This French roasting pot of tantalisingly dark musical elements, from vaudeville brass band sections, to achingly glorious black metal, to jazz, to reggae influenced ideas; is at the omega of avant-garde. The true genius is in successfully binding the whole work together in an extremely tight and cohesive vision. Sometimes the atmosphere feels like a burlesque melding of what people outside of France might see as French culture, mixed with the post apocalyptic steam-punk aesthetics exercised in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's films (Delicatessen, City of Lost Children and Micmacs). 'Nom d’une Pipe !' will be available as of March 30th via Les Acteurs de l’Ombre Productions.


    Sigur Rós - Kveikur
    4. - (96%)

    I waited and waited for the mood to take me. I needed something special to accompany listening to Kveikur. The hills began to roll under my feet, as my legs became rigid pendulums, carrying me through the thick hot air on our warmest day of the year. The album sang as I knew it would and my aura began to ring with the same colour omitted by the rural tapestry that stretched out as far as my tearful eyes could reach. I felt free, effervescent, fluorescent, Omni-present. The haunted industrial tones, pop like compression, a voice with such emotion merely baring witness is like being rained on while cocooned in an intensely vital sepulchre. Stormur made me cry in the first 30 seconds. I washed my face in a natural spring and my feet continued to pound on. How Sigur Ros lost a key member, but delivered one of, if not the best album any of them have ever produced... ? I'm reminded of how terrifyingly consistent Takk was on first listen, they're injecting every bar with something unique and genuinely magical, alien and still to this day without comparison.


    Celeste - Animale(s)
    3. - (96%)

    Legendary, infamously weighted blackened sludge metallers Celeste return with a double album so heavy and chaotic it could do with being stamped with a health warning. Something along the lines of "Do not listen to Animale(s) if you are prone to dizzy-ness, nausea, back pain or are on a course of heavy sedatives". Coma inducing grooves won't stop, with these gargantuan chords creating the densest, bleakest and most dreadful atmospheres - when the pace is vamped up, the sludge is more identifiable as black metal energy, with the dissonance and kinetics combining to inflict a, quite literally, judging wall of sound on me. I feel every chord change like the acidity of my stomach is becoming more concentrated, if I'm not careful, by the end of the 70 minutes, I can be left quite anxious and confused. Where with bands like neurosis, their sadness is a warming melancholy, birthing a sort of internally educating emotional response, Celeste go further than that to the nihilistic, misanthropic point of just cutting away at the listener with their unrewarding negativity. Unless you can't tell by my score, I consider this a most note worthy achievement. The song (X) is in-arguably this years crowning masterpiece song - The structure of the dirging build up in the second half, with flickers over to the only hopeful chord on the whole album before the band's partiality to devastation comes back in like being hit in the side of the knee with a baseball bat.


    Carpe Noctem - In Terra Profugus
    2. - (97%)

    Just knowing a band is out if Iceland is becoming a selling point, and rightfully so, with a tiny population seemingly able to churn out faultless music and cinema, imbibed by the eerie beauty of the empty lunar landscape, Carpe Noctem is obscure and dissonant death metal with an opaque atmosphere, similar to the reverb drenched black metal band 'Negative Plane' but while playing riffs closer to 'Dodecahedron' or 'Portal' with cleaner breaks dwelling in the same atonal landscape as 'Virus'. Although there have been more albums than ever that have really impressed me this year, this is one of few I have been listening to obsessively. The second track Ars Moriendi has a "perfect riff" in it that is so well timed, it's a punishing mid-paced groove which feels extremely welcome as it plumes out from from the severe urgent augmented habitat. The production, the songs, the performances and the bands innovation and direction, I really hope this doesn't get overlooked, because all of the above are here in pristine abundance.


    Kayo Dot - Hubardo
    1. - (99%)

    Writing about music has become one of my creative outlets - but if you were bored enough to read this whole journal, you'd certainly find a lot of weaknesses, mainly in repeating certain sentiments (even if I've tried really hard to hide such repetitions in poetic constructs). What I'm trying to say is, all my reviews are in praise of the work artists have produced - I'm not trying to sharpen peoples perception of my opinion, which some "reviewers" do and get people reading/listening (for some reason?). But after a while I tire of reading my superlative after superlative, hyperbole and emphasis on regards in heaps. I need to learn to keep something back for a release like Kayo Dot's Hubardo, which is the only album to make me feel like I'm hearing one of my most favourite albums for the first time all over again, that album being Choirs of the Eye, also by Kayo Dot (hard, to explain, but after ten years, so many line up changes, and so much musical soil sewn, this really does just feel like a coincidence). The image of Kayo Dot today is an expression so complex and broken, by tragedy, by industry, by it's own ruthless exploration - that the re-configured ‘Maudlin of the Well’ who once produced CotE is no longer an expectation - and for some years now we've been met with works that successfully blur a thoughtful and academic approach to composition, challenging even the most elite followers of avant-garde and experimental music to achieve accurate analysis, but without knowing exactly why certain musical statements are being made, a vast amount of information in the emotional spectrum still pervades.

    So, baring all that in mind, Hubardo's music can only be abstractly placed in the Kayo Dot historical context as a forward thinking reflection on the last 10 years, everything successful in Kayo Dot's arsenal is laid out, with a rewarding cohesion and enough variety to transform the 100 minute long concept into an experience that's so pleasing and engaging to my ears, I could easily believe it had past me by in a quarter of the time.

    The heaviness on this album enters it back into the metal sphere and yet it is so abundantly clear that there’s a higher class of thought and application than what commonly occupies the distorted confines of “Metal” and thus it almost becomes a declaration of what can be done in juxtaposition to a lot of seemingly appreciated/respected metal bands that are just frustratingly bland in comparison to this ludicrously under appreciated craftsmanship. Kayo Dot isn’t altogether radio friendly, so it’s never going to reach a certain commercial acclaim, but communally Kayo Dot should be credited justly, and if that were so, self releasing this album would not be a necessity. I’m angry about that. But anyway, *breathes deeply*, the fact that Toby is capable of ferocious, rewarding riffs like those in the sludgey closing minutes of Crown In The Muck, but has refrained from bestowing them until now, is a bit of a kick in the teeth for someone like me who appreciates that extra bit of prestige in his music, but also craves the raw passion that comes with heaviness.

    I find the four tracks from ‘The Second Operation (Lunar Water)’ to ‘Passing the River’ provide the most noteworthy section for the album, which I return to independently all the time. 'The Second Operation' being a gentle chunk of the musical discourse, building choral displays of that glorious avant-balad in Toby’s voice, then to Kayo Dot’s most punishing musical flourish to date - Floodgate, which is so technical it’s murky, with melodic vitriol churned out in chundering rhythmic riffs which are cast into immiserating obscurity by the brass instruments, yowling like dying animals until the pace is reduced to doom like atmospheric death metal reminiscent of bands like Mitochondrion, Portal or Impetuous Ritual; and then to ‘And He Built Him a Boat’, which is the best song on the album for me and just contains everything in a really neat, defined and pristine presentation; and finally to 'Passing The River', which has an almost shoe-gaze feel to it’s first half and certainly wouldn’t go amiss as a Vaura track, and like Vaura, a storm is waiting around the corner, tied in with a crushing doom section provided by the most talented guitarist Kayo Dot have initiated to date, Ron Varod (based on what’s provided on Gamma Knife and Hubardo as well as how he performs new and old material live, almost chameleonic of Driver’s articulation and perfect for the tonal moods of that haunted finger picking style) before the cascading black metal precipitates an acidic experimental and apocalyptic climax.

    So I’m posting this review today because Comet ISON is reaching perihelion, pretty much as I type this, and what has been hyped to be the comet of the century has so far performed ok - if it survives this brush with Sol’s fires, it could well be a spectacular naked eye event, like Hale-Bopp, which I witnessed and experienced as it graced northern skies when I was ten years old, seeding the utterly sublime sensations and connections I make with observing the local universe. I only mention this because ISON and Hubardo feel linked, ‘the poet’ being the literary figure seeking some alchemical resolution, shaken to unfurl by an obsession with a meteorite which falls to earth at the start of the complex album’s concept and ISON is a rogue; a complete new comer to the solar system, giving us a wealth of information about the formation of our planets, how the solar system took it’s shape, how water arrived on earth, and so-on-and-so-forth.

    Hubardo is still kicking up rewards for me, even many months on, but then so is Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue, so many years on - and for that reason, I feel like with this new crowning jewel of Kayo Dot’s ten year career, I have entered myself into a passionate long term listening affair.

  • 2012 - The very most excellent stuff with write ups.

    26 Mar 2012, 14:56 by XfnSnow

    Firstly, I haven't quite finished all the reviews yet. My tastes are still on slightly left-field, mainly quite heavy music. This list is as much about discoveries, but in the case of bands like Anathema, it's just if the album is special enough. I've ordered my list from lowest rated, up to my album of the year. I've tried to keep the reviews breif, because that's what I prefer to read.

    Click here for a video I made with choice clips from some of these bands.

    2014 JOURNAL

    2013 JOURNAL

    2011 JOURNAL

    Support for my own DIY project is much appreciated:
    Courtsleet - Facebook | SoundCloud | bandcamp |


    #49: Bosse-de-Nage - III

    Sorry, it's now the year 2013 and I'm trying to bring this list to a proper end, so unfortunately this review is a very basic/less thoughtful attempt. Bosse-de-Nage are a Profound Lore artist. They fit the bill of that label perfectly, with an awesome and superlative approach to their very "current" brand of post-black metal. I feel like there's something untested being done here and lazilly, I'm going to admit I can't quite put my finger on what that exactly is. It's like label mates Altar of Plagues but with an added fire in it's stomach. This album is dense and angst ridden and the power just bleeds out of it. It feels very human and organic and as a result, you can feel what the musicians put into their performances here, with expressive knuckle shreading riffs, and joint rattling drum battery. The first listen I gave this album I was really really blown away, but after repeated listens, a few things started to grate on me, like the sadly misplaced spoken word sections, which I couldn't quite excuse for their cheesiness.


    #48: The 11th Hour - Lacrima Mortis

    The 11th Hour are writing out of the Netherlands and present us with crushing melodoom leaning to progressive (member Ed Warby has also worked with Ayreon) and power metal elements. Lacrima Mortis is an album of consistent quality (musically and compositionally) and for this particular corner of the doom genre, it's hard to find a match for the confrontational energy in the guitars with the gothic and moribund orchestrations in the synths. Almost like Nevermore/Mercenary meets Funeral. The pace drags along perfectly and occasionally imposes a levitation in mood by bringing in a chugging riff with thunderous effect. My only gripe is that the clean vocals are very power metal-y. Sometimes it sounds great, but sometimes it's on the wrong side of cheesy for me. The harsh vocals are absolutely stunning and violent. So for me it's not that the album is adequate, it's in fact supreme in some places and a bit of a let down in others. Still, I seriously can't recommend this enough. Especially if you actually are into your power metal vocalists - you'd have no gripes here as this guys voice is technically fantastic, it's literally just that the 'style' of singing doesn't do anything for me.


    #47: Germ - Wish

    Wish is an album that has to be heard to be believed. If there is a floral side to depressive suicidal black metal, this project has found it. Suppose for this morbid sub-category of music the usual associated imagery is a black and white photo of someone sat in bath, bleeding from self inflicted wounds? Well Germ would be riding that bath tub over the edge of a waterfall, with a unicorn looking on in approval, the spray from the plunge pool causing light to refract into dazzling rainbows. You could imagine this being a concept album about slitting your wrists, then over-feeding yourself on candy-floss, condoning a sort of race between dying of blood loss against some grotesque gastric failure. An unlikely image for an unlikely sound. The happy, fantasy, almost 'power metal-like' edge in this music comes from the amazing stacked up arpegiating synths, which create hypnotic sensations. These synths are very powerful and even though compositionally aligned to very tonal almost classical melodic explorations (think Cannon in D or a repeated motif from one of Paganini's caprices), the dynamic they offer is unrelenting and almost becomes oppressive, adding to the overall extremity. The guitars just verify that sensation with malicious distorted post black metal vocabulary. The clean vocals are catchy and well performed and offer a deeper light and shade contrast when the 'shrieks' do come in, meaning you can feel you've gone from a sort of cheesy poppy geography to a very dark and subversive ground. I personally get a real kick out of these jarring changes. The only reason I haven't scored this album much higher is that it gets a bit too repetitive as it draws to its end and to get through it with full attention paid to each track I had to break the album into thirds. Definitely not a musical endeavor for everyone, but certainly one of the more memorable albums of 2012 not just for its sheer quality but for getting away with crimes against the DSBM sub-genre. Much approval!


    #46: Swallow the Sun - Emerald Forest and the Blackbird

    When I first discovered StS it was a bit of an epiphany for me. Their dramatic and harrowing melodic doom chilled me to the bone. I've found all their output to be of consistent quality - each album has deviated only slightly in direction from the last but usually offered enough variety to keep me locked in for the journey. This album has returned to a doomier posture than the last effort 'New Moon', but also contains quite misanthropic moments of almost black metal, giving it a similar edge to their mini album 'Plague Of Butterflies'. Personally, I'm not really in a place where I can connect with this music at the moment, certainly not in the same way as I once did and thus, I've not been too enthusiatic about 'Emerald Forest and the Blackbird'. In spite of this fact, I can hear it is one of their cleverest and darkest opuses to date. Compositionally there's no filler here; we're taken from serene nature inspired passages to places of torment and sorrow. I can't wait to have a day when I'm really in the mood for this so I can blast what I deem the highlight of this album "Hate Lead the Way".


    #45: Din Brad - Dor

    Din Brad is dark haunting and immensely internal ambient neo folk from the drummer and last remaining original member of Negura Bunget. Tribal and meditative rhythms set the pulse while glorious earthen vocals are delivered with sweet sentimental ululating baritones. Sometimes male, sometimes female - more or less in call and response by track over the album. Meanwhile, eastern plucked and bowed acoustic instruments pointilistically flare up out of a bed of soft droning ambience. This music feels almost religious, and would certainly go down a treat with Romania's tourist board. Some people who can't see the artistic merrit in metal should turn on to this, realise if someone who's primary output is of a heavy nature also has the artistic and creative core to produce something this stretched and beautiful - maybe it's time phillistines re-evaluated the creative strengths of our most treasurable (or not treasured enough) and experimental artists. Some moments of these ambience's a re so chilling that they seem to literally omit the spirit of nature and the unspoken magic of our forests.


    #44: Melankoli - Wind

    Melankoli is an enigmatic solo project hailing from Moscow Russia being solicited by the ever inspiring Khrysanthoney Records. This release is one of their last for a while, and what a swan song! Wind is four tracks (and a cover) of utterly chilling blackgaze. First thing to say is the production, where with a lot of solo artists you might feel you've been slightly short changed on the quality by which they deliver material, with Melankoli this is not an issue and the sound is a notch above 95% of other bands doing this kind of music. The guitars are punchy and the drums really breath. The screams have that perfect equalization that gives them an epic depth, as if they could've been shouted from the opposite side of a valley while the clean vocals are right up in your ear and personal. And yet there's a really cold mist woven into the layers that gives this mellancholic masterpiece a genuinely solitary atmosphere. The use of synths and keys is also super tasteful, with just the right treatments on the sound making songs like 'Embrace of Winter' a real journey for the listener. Firstly, I hope this album travels well, and secondly I hope, specifically in this case that the creative symbiosis of label and artist continues to bare such ripe and rewarding fruits.


    #43: Atoma - Skylight

    This is what happens when supreme artists who refuse to blinker themselves to the shit state of humanity and the human condition make music without constraint. Epic sorrowful and unique aural journey, shining a blacklight on the withered spirit of mankind. Atoma were formerly a melodic doom band called Slumber, but have shaken off all conventions of this music to blast us with a supremely crafted and challenging release. Grandiose and epic production involving massive rhythm sections, vast orchestral timbres, sweeping and arpegiating synths, wall of noise distorted guitars and beautiful clean vocals take these visions to other levels of exhuberating and epic drama. Sometimes it all sounds very european, and early on in the album I could imagine giant parades of people dancing to this. The dispirited nature of these artists really has enabled them to unlock a similar work to Disillusion's second album Gloria, which was received as a massive let down because it didn't follow any trend, but over time became accepted as a genuine work of art, which is rare these days especially in extreme metal.


    #42: An Autumn for Crippled Children - Only the Ocean Knows

    AAFCC are one of the leading underground blackgaze artists of the moment and have a solid sound and following. Only the Ocean Knows is the fullest production this band have woven to date and with their unique formula tried and tested, why change anything? This album has all those 'beautifying and crippling in one stroke' melodies with those fuzz drenched rhythm guitars slowly cutting away at your ear while the heavilly automated drum machine sound offers extra throw backs to gothic bands and production styles of the 80s. I think there's a genuine evolution going on in how well this band can throw together a song, but my only criticism is, which slightly contradicts a sentiment made earlier in the review, three album in three years and it only really sounds like they're honing debut album 'Lost' rather than making new statements with each album. But don't fix it if it isn't broken, is what they say? And I do think to an extent this applies. If you're new to this band, this album makes 90% of 2010's 'Lost' redundant and about 70% of 2011's 'Everything' redundant, so maybe do yourself a favour and give those two albums a shot first, because they are very worthy of your attention also. Just see if you have the emotional stamina to take in this much material from one band who are so very good at mellancholic transfusion.


    #41: Grimes - Visions

    Grimes is a young woman from Canada with a unique voice, a strong command of the loop station and a natural knowledge for melody, song writing and production. It's worth pointing out this is hugely unfamiliar territory for me as this album has got a lot of commercial and Indy appeal, but there's something about her voice - the gothic tinges to the production/image and the general ambrosia of the music that has really enchanted me. The music is entirely electronic with interesting pad sounds creating an ethereal smoky atmosphere, electric minimalistic piano leads adding variations when the vocals drop out and some deep sub bass synths giving the production a real depth. The drum and rhythm programming are quite masterful and don't fall into any single 'dance music' categorisation. My interest in this album started when I saw some footage of grimes performing live - it was clear she'd gained a wealth of knowledge in music technologies to marry up the myriad of equipment she has at her disposal. Clearly a neccessity in order to actualise her musical vision. Then add the fact that she's basically controlling the mix live as well as physically performing the key solos and vocals while fading in out reverbs and delays and also dancing/omitting a commanding presence. Basically really impressive multi-tasking. Unfortunately, all of this technique isn't clearly celebrated on the recordings of the album. Of all the tracks I'd say there are 4 outstanding and haunting pieces worthy of Bjork, Sigur Ros or Tori Amos, the other tracks, although seemingly amazing live left me a little cold on record. I'm still totally delighted that some mainstream music has sparked my interest, it's almost a relief for me to realise that I'm not just ignoring mainstream music out of principal and something that's truly good will breach the gap and connect (i.e. I'm not a closet elitist. phew).


    #40: Líam - MMIX

    MMIX by Líam is a ghost. The album was written and recorded in 2009 before geography got between the band members. Some how this glorious music has been kept under an uncertain hat, I suppose with the band's destiny being uncertain, so too was the status of the record they'd laboured over. So now 3 years down the line they've admitted the band is officially disbanded (which is very sad) and shared the album digitally (at first it was free, but then a price got stamped on it). They were one of the bands blending black metal and post-rock back in the day. Obviously this sound has become very prevalent now, so in some ways Líam were ahead of their time. However MMIX contains no black metal at all. It still has a certain earthly energy which at one point in every track is an unrelenting wall of noise pay-off, but that's just the thing, the quiet to loud song structure is repeatedly explored, and with out a vocalist, it's not easy to decipher one track from another. That said, the music is brilliant, the performances emotive, the production full of detail and richness. I enjoy this album most late at night, get a hot drink, dim the lights. Bliss.


    #39: If These Trees Could Talk - Red Forest

    It's good to hear a post-rock band who don't dwindle and do have 'cojones'. When If These Trees Could Talk get heavy, it's a genuinely visceral pounding, with all the glacial melodic vocabulary still precipitating over some intense and muddy grooves. Lots of pristine and poignant cleans sections here introduce the melodic ideas which are built in a sort of binary structure with the heavier stuff, instead of like most post-rock bands which just swell from one section to a slightly bigger section and on and... on. The title track is my favourite, and builds amazingly by bouncing an idea between a state of hibernation and a state of combustion until by the end of the song, it's as if the tree's which seem to be constantly part of the imagery this band conjures for me have uprooted themselves and are marching with flames in their branches towards the nearest inhabited city in some awesome otherworldly procession of vengeance. This is also highly accesible, as in the sort of thing american independant films use in their montage driven adverts these days. That doesn't stop it from being down right amazing, and perfect if you like to imagine your own life is some montage of you doing... awesome things.


    #38: Licht Erlischt... - ...And Below, the Retrograde Disciples

    Licht Erlischt is a project belonging to a German multi-instrumentalist called Nerrath. The music this man creates is a doom laden form of black metal, ripe with dark energies. The guitars plod and groove along with great sustain and dissonance. There's a melodic language and articulation in these riffs very unique to this project. I suspect it's to do with voicing the riffs with some open strings droning in the background, sort of like Czral's riffing style in Virus, but a little more tamed tonally. Vocally, this is a really unusual one. We have a huge voice producing gravelly but clean melodies. The aggression is there as is the presence of other more subtle emotions. The closest thing I can compare it to is perhaps the male vocals used by the legendary industrial titans 'Kill the Thrill'. And of course because of this, Licht Erlischt have a sort of semantic industrialness about them, by association. I like all the tracks here but I'm particularly fond of the album closer (not including the Nortt cover) 'Cellar Bars'. The main riff is incredibly catchy, and although this tune generally feels more "upbeat" musically, and perhaps a little simpler structurally, it still moved me further than any of the other excellent songs on here. Also, I must say, Licht Erlischt's logo is absolutely fantastic, just etched angles making a grid-like mess, that is really fun to look at and decipher the individual letters - once you have done so, you can see the word jump out at you really clearly every time, but it takes a little bit of doing. Well worth the effort, just like the music.


    #37: Switchblade - (2012)

    Switchblade are a Swedish duo who manage to carve an experimental experience out of a stripped down sludge-laden doom arrangement. Being championed by Denovali Records is one clue as to the quality of the material this band is producing. The riffs on this have teeth, powerful jaws and are driven to terrible deeds by feral minds. The only apparent calculation? How to methodically grind the listener down to nothing but a smudge. I discovered this through 'The Cuckoo' - one of Terra Tenebrosa's enigmatic members, who makes an appearance as guest vocalist here. His grating-static-death-rattle vocals scutter over the massive distorted bass riffs and neanderthal drumming, creating a petrifying section 6 minutes into the opening track. Of the three movements this album is divided in to, the second contains the highlights for me, with a huge atmosphere building to a crushing pay off around the 7 minute mark. It's great to hear something primal, heavy and raw like this, that which also displays a genuine level of craft and maturity.


    #36: Lunar Aurora - Hoagascht

    Hoagascht is my only experience of Lunar Aurora. I was aware when approaching this album that it was very highly anticipated by a loving and loyal fanbase. At first I wasn't sure if I was going to join this fraternity, as the vocals seemed a little dry, and the electronic elements of the production were a little perplexing to me. But as with a lot of the albums I come to love, time was on Lunar Aurora's side. Very suddenly, and not a moment too soon, I think I "got it". There's a lot being communicated in the synths and their interplay with the guitars is really important. At a certain point I suddenly felt an amazing presence within this music, like a menacing spectre dancing to the guitars and taunting the electronics. This album really does form a concentrated cloud around me, which seemingly conceals the world from me and myself from the world. When I get time I'll have a look back and find out why this album was so anticipated and I'd like to hope my love for this music will just continue to grow as result.


    #35: Mgla - With hearts toward none

    Mgla is spiritually aggrevatved black metal made to literally crush the listener. With Hearts Toward None exudes an anger being driven by teeth grinding despair and seems to offer intimidating levels of confrontation in the energy captured by the astounding production. Poland is perhaps better known for it's legendary death metal acts, but in this case I'd say that extra magic making such a fertile land for extreme music has been in full effect for the sprouting of Mgla. The riffs are really melodic and are played with such a gut wrenching tone that it really doesn't matter that a few melodies pop up frequently through the album almost thematically, you will just be caught in the tide of it. The vocals are so pissed off and almost commanding, I think the phrase negative passion best describes the central sentiments given off by this work. In the sense that I find myself dwelling on things that anger me when I listen, and I feel urged to make some kind of a change. So in a lot of ways this album shines a light on what we despise, but also motivates and inspires. Very impressive and highly commendable work by one of black metal's true geniuses.


    #34: Make a Change... Kill Yourself - Fri

    This band is one of the true beacons of light in the DSBM sub genre of black metal. And when I say becons of light, I only do so because of what the analgous turn of phrase represents... I actually mean the band is darker and more life-force draining than most. The opposite to a beacon of light in fact. Fri is the long awaited follow up album to 2007's 'II', and it truly doesn't dissapoint! I'd say of the other MaC... KY material, this is by far the most focused, emotional, punishing, intelligent and just truly epic I've heard. The riffs are wailing from the fretboard while the guitar's pick ups do a fine job of not choking on such massive an expressive chords, played with a skin tearing vigor. Ynelborgaz probably did half destroy himself playing this thing. His spirit is completely laid bare on fri, and for a character who seemingly has to drag himself over coals just to get any kind of senstion from his existence, what he shows us in his music is colourful, expansive and so fucking beautiful for all it's honesty and vulnerability. An artist who is past help and past caring can still have an incredible amount to offer, which is what I feel when I listen to Fri. I'm also delighted that Ynelborgaz recently played a few shows with a full MaC... KY line up. The bootlegs I saw looked utterly incredible - humbling it was too to see the incredible rhythm guitarist overcoming syndactyly and performing to a menacing and inspiring degree! I'm disapointed for the bands involved that the whole tour didn't happen as was intended, but very excited at the prospect of one day seeing this legendary music in the live sphere.


    #33: The Great Old Ones - Al Azif

    This brand new French collective can best be described as weighty post-metal drawing on the subject of Lovecraft's famed 'Cthulu Mythos'. Add to this a black metal and shoe gaze influence. That translates to absolute pure excitement for me. The pantheon of old deformed gods and creatures H.P Lovecraft described to terrorise Victorian audiences, teasing at human fears of the unknown, still continues to translate today as some of the most hair raising literary characters created. Just to get a small criticism out of the way, most other bands proclaiming attachment to the aforementioned tales have done so with a nightmarish discordance, where as this band haven't quite represented the horror of Lovecraft in their musical approach, even though it's heavily referenced in the lyrics. That out of the way, this album is massive, with riffs that twist and turn in reverb drenched layers to rempant, intimidating crescendos, ambient sections with jazzy flourishes and even chugging death-doom moments which are both sonically monstrous and emotive. The song 'Jonas' is one of the best pieces I've heard this year and is the strongest representation of TGOO's potential to break down walls within subgenres while retaining their own sense of character. I hate doing this, but it really does at times sound like Godspeed You! Black Emperor playing medleys of Gojira/Blut Aus Nord's material.


    #32: Be'lakor - Of Breath and Bone

    I thought I'd soaked all the life out of 'melodic death metal'/'melodeath' when I was young and lead slightly more by instincts than intellect when choosing music to accompany my rather bland suburban existence (the romantic grandeur of this genre met with the aggressive delivery probably offered a sponge for my angst while also a sort of fantasy to distract me from what I perceived to be quite a meaningless existence). Therefore, personally, it's a great nostalgia hit when a melodeath band manages still to emotionally cut through to me, despite my over-exposure to thrashy A-minor 'Aeolian' alternate picked riffs (the Gothenburg sound). Be'lakor present the full package, with flares of technicality, emotive ballad like harmonies, thundering rhythms and a fearsome overall tightness. Rather than using the word 'originality' here, I'd say they just make working within certain parameters interesting again. The album offers not a dull moment and I kept finding I had a huge urge to repeat certain songs during the first listen - there's just so many musical pay offs, hearing tracks again with that added anticipation you can only get from subsequent plays is an absolute delight. The last three tracks are my favourites, with 'In Parting' having some of the best guitar parts I've heard this year. Be'lakor have offered a small revival of music I once adored and for that they have my gratitude.


    #31: Mirrorring - Foreign Body

    Mirrorring (with a double double 'R') is an experimental neo-folk/drone/ambient project. The music is deeply soothing and rich with the ability to put the mind into a harmonic stasis. It's hard to say what instrument is used in developing the tones and chords, it's certainly a bowed feedbacky sound with lots of information in the low end. This acts as the body for songs which then feature bits of guitar and some amazing female vocals doing the story telling. It's subdued and great to chill out with, but also the beauty has a sadness to it which adds a weight. Much like Birds of Passage, only not quite so introspectively haunting and perhaps a little bit more based on the abstractions of nature. And thus another fair comparison would be Natural Snow Buildings, who released two long and rewarding albums last year 'Waves of the Random of Sea' and 'Chants of Niflheim'. This is some of the best stuff I've heard for this strange little niche of deeply emotive, minimalistic folk, taking the best of the few bands I do know about who do similar things and adding their own twists and turns.


    #30: Mothlite - Dark Age

    Mothlite is a borderless concept of expression and catharsis for creator Daniel O'Sullivan, a prolific musician, composer and possibly one of the most admirable and interesting artist in this field. Dark Age is an unusually commercial sounding collection of songs written over a two year period, in and around a busy shedule of touring and recording with ulver, aethenor, grumbling fur and miracle. Did I mention Daniel is prolific? Despite the hectic CV, Mothlite has not suffered one bit, but has certainly metamorphosized from quietly sinister masterpiece 'The Flax of Reverie' to this almost jubilant complex electronic avant-pop album. It's a strange album for me because I actually find a few of the moments here to be quite pedestrian and think this reflects on O'Sullivan's willingness to submit himself to his muses. The other side of the coin is when the stacks of percussion create an earthy, traditional energy juxtaposing the modern electronic timbres. The creativity on display is astonishing, but that's to be expected. A pessimist might say Dark Age can't be pigeon holed, an optimist would say it happily fills multiple pigeon holes simultaneously.


    #29: Bersarin Quartet - II

    (Review to follow)


    #28: A Silver Mt. Zion - The West Will Rise Again

    This EP seems to have gone largely unnoticed, possibly due to its limited availability. It's taken me a long time to get round to writing about it. The venture seems similar to the 'Lightening Paw' EP, offering a creative snap shot of some songs they'd been experimenting with around the time of recording. The whole thing seems quite spontaneous too which is why I get the sensation that this all happened very suddenly (also knowing the band was largely focusing on GY!BE last year). The songs are overflowing with that beautiful hopeless yearning for better things, resulting overall in a dense melancholy. The instruments creak and cry and reluctantly do as they're supposed to under the talented control disguised as uncontrol of Menuck and his wonderful friends. Quite simply to enjoy SMZ, open your hearts to the transmission and then your ears will reap the reward of the music.


    #27: Worm Ouroboros - Come the Thaw

    Beautiful sad and evocative doom, which pays immense homage to the roots of the genre in it's succulent organic approach and omits a nostalgia through a vintage production with an almost psychedelic edge. This is one of my favourite new discoveries this year and really is unlike anything else I can think of. Large songs based around meandering and prominent bass lines and build calmly, seeming to lock into my body's natural rhythms and lull me into a very trance like state. This thing knocks me out for the count in a good way. The vocals are delivered by a lady with a very rich voice. She's got an occult folky tone going on. The drumming is perfectly subdued and reserved and even when the tracks step up a gear, it feels the drummer just holds a little back to keep everything tasteful and somnambulent. Occasional the usually clean guitars kick in with some overdriven harmonies which cry out loudly. The voicing here has a similar spell to some of the early 'In The Woods' stuff, but maybe a bit more progressive. I don't often mention album artwork in these reviews, but I have to say the pastel shades of the hind framed in foliage and it's own horns on the front of Come The Thaw is so wonderfully symbiotic of the mood of the music, I can close my eyes and animate this image and create other creatures in a play of mammal vs nature set on a rural background during a particular harsh or early autumn/winter.


    #26: Necro Deathmort - The Colonial Script

    I first had the pleasure of hearing this project perform in support of Ulver in London. It was a breif but scintilating introduction to a creative vision which covers so much musical ground it almost feels like it could only be some kind of parody to the forms it pays homage to. I'm certain the mix-match style Necro Deathmore have developed puts alot of smiles on a few peoples faces and suprisingly, there's nothing to be had but astonishment when successfully mixing glitchy electronic drums and massive pulses of sinister distorted bass/funeral doom guitar riffs; even if, suffice to say, on paper it sounds like it might be the musical equivolent of confusing your eye drops with toothpaste. Don't ask how, it just works; frenetically well. The two creatures at work behind this project marry visions from distant realms to bring a sadistically grinning cybernetic organism to life which, has the pristine and hypnotic qualities of house music and the abbrasive, piledriving, relentless malcontent of sludge, grind and black metal. The screamed vocals here are a welcome addition, and remind me of Toby Driver singing in the second half of 'Gemini Becoming the Tripod'. It just seems to summon that same anxiety and desperation. The guitars are often playing large detuned and heavily sustained chords,but the same sustain is also used for some creepy atonal atmospheric upper melodies which sound very alien and very epic. And instead of your usual crashing fairly predictable acoustic percussion, we have very odd metrics (the musics mainly in 4/4 but the drums make it hard to tell) on electronically voiced more industrial drum sounds. It's something pretty new to my ears, and I'm sure fans of intelligent music aross all spectrums of genre would find something to cherish here.


    #25: Ne Obliviscaris - Portal Of I

    This relatively unknown progressive metal ensemble from Australia have managed to quickly gain status off the back of their debut, career defining, album. 'Portal of I' has been nearly 10 years in the making for Ne Obliviscaris and is a tapestry of extreme genres, from melodic metal to rasping black metal and right back to thunderous technical rhythmic scoring woven together with strong neo classical and folk sections. At first, it was perhaps a little too kaleidoscopic for me, especially with some of the cheesier vocal moments, but after taking a step back and listening to each track independently I've come to realise there really isn't a wasted moment on this record. A comparison I feel a duty to make is to one of my all time favourite albums; Disillusion's 'Back to Times of Splendor', which is another work of progressive nature covering acre's of musical geography without loosing it's extremity or edge to the concept. The main high point other than the band's general energy, tightness and ferocity, is the performance by violinist Tim Charles. He has an absolute abundance of talent, but the lasting impression his contributions have made on me are due to his melodic vocabulary, which he utilises through virtuosic solos, embelishing on the songs themes rather than entering in to boring and ego-driven 'shred' territory. I have to be honest, I've never heard a violinist using modes this creatively in their solo's over 'metal' music. Usually with the saw-tooth bowed violin sound you either get quite long melodies adding voice to the songs chord structure, or very scalic runs that sound quite text book, but this guy is using techniques that colour his solo's in a sort of Steve Vai-ish sheen (love him or hate him he is a master of melody and technique). It's quite astounding to hear actually, especially when he does the massive interval leaps which would usually involve an epic 10 fret slide, a big string skipping arpeggio or a dive bomb on the tremelo arm of a guitar. I could really imagine this album scoring very high with people whose tastes are very metal orientated, the only reason I've not scored it higher is just literally that I find it doesn't really appeal to my taste enough, but I can definitely appreciate an astounding level of craft has gone into making 'Portal of I' the beast it is.


    #24: Sunpocrisy - Samaroid Dioramas

    (Review pending)


    #23: Infinitas - Journey to Infinity

    Infinitas is a black metal project from Germany. They draw on juxtaposing urban depression and rural ecstasy as well as meditating on subjects such as infinity and dreams. The project sounds like a very cathartic, personal and artistic purging for it's creator who goes by the name 'Thorn'. For this reason the music is really successful in communicating the aforementioned themes. Conventions wise, this would be best described as a really well stirred blend of post rock and black metal with lots of experimental and ambient passages. Sometimes the music builds to a fervent pitch and dynamic and the melodies are as unpredicatable and progressive as a hurricanes winds finding a route through winding streets. These bits remind me of my most favourite bedroom bm project, Sleeping Peonies. Also, the vocals have a good range. Some cleans are tastefully introduced. The harsher bm vocals are succesful. Then there's the occasional really over the top screamo section. Some people could be put off by the extent of these screams, I can just about stomach it, but it is bordering on the Silencer side of things. The positive is it gives infinitas a really very unique and memorable character. My favourite black metal full length of last year was Alrakis' - 'Alpha Eri', and I actually discovered Infinitas as they're on the same Mexican distribution/label "Self Mutilation Services", who unfortunately only seem to operate out of a myspace page, but have some completely mind blowing bands on their roster!


    #22: Imber Luminis - Winter Fallings

    Imber Luminis is the solo project of Déhà, a multi instrumentalist from Belgium. Déhà has issues with life, and vents these issues through sorrow drenched music and morbid/suicidal lyrics & poetry. Winter Fallings is a 2 track EP, but each track is quite epic in length, so it's actually a good amount of material to take in in one sitting clocking in at just under twenty-five minutes. This has almost been the year of the EP for me, as I've certainly preferred the shorter bursts of genius, like this one, to longer more drawn out visions, which might sometimes contain filler around the best material (and the best material could've just been on a strong EP... etc). As you could've guessed by the score I've given this, there's no filler here! Guitar riffs, drenched in a whole spectrum of moods, are oozing from this soul's limbs, captured in a trance like 4/4 rhythm. Howls, shrieks, spoken word and the occasional moan make up the vocal delivery. 'I Am Not' is my favourite track here and I think the lyrics before the main riff kicks in are just awesome! There's also some great doomy refrains tying together riffs that just ascend in quality toward the end of the track and EP. Winter Fallings has cemented my interest in Imber Luminis and I'll now follow this project's movements with an avid fandom.


    #21: Lethian Dreams - Season of Raven Words

    Lethian Dreams are French and play beautiful nature-inspired black metal/doom, packed with melody and emotion and fronted by a female vocalist. Very much coming from a similar place to fellow post-black metallers and citizens of France, Alcest and Les Discrets. Vocally this lady reminds me alot of Amesoeurs' somewhat legendary vocalist Audrey Sylvain. Dripping with gothic melancholy and atmosphere. There's a certain dreariness to the mood that likens it to such doomy and emotional metal legends as Katatonia or Anathema. The riffs lend themselves more to the Burzum school of hypnotic meaningful 'axe'ploration - Maybe more appropriate to name some contemporaries - like Finnr's Cane or Lantlos would be more accurate, but still somewhat lazy comparisons. There's rawness that gives this vitality. The ideas on display are startlingly crafted. White Gold is one of my favourite tracks with a stunning build up that makes me feel pressure behind my eyes and stirs up a storm inside me. Mentioning a high point on the album, but there are no dull moments here, just epic and communicative song writing that really reaches out. This band don't appear to have even close to the recognition they deserve... yet... I can't see that being the case for very long.


    #20: Fever Sea - The Deluge

    Fever Sea's first EP, The Deluge, has completely blown all expectations out of the water. This band are from the west coast and play a rare form of deeply emotive progressive black metal (think Disillusion/Les Discrets/Hacride). I recently discovered this band through watching a fairly decent quality rehearsal clip on youtube and the first thing I noticed was they had a genuine complexity and maturity to their sound. The song and style came across as completely polished. The offering I was hearing was the monolithic highlight of the EP (second track in) "The King Immersed", which has the glistening, ethereal melodic content of Alcest, which builds and swirls until we find ourselves in a more aggravated rhythmically forceful territory, somewhere close to Gojira with their crushing heaviness channelled through an esoteric atmosphere making use of reverbs and just gaining a whole extra dimension for a sound succesfully representing nature at it's most furious. The musicianship here is completely astounding, especially the drummer who puts in a flawless and inspired performance. His sense of groove, articulation, use of fills and technique for the faster sections are all utterly enviable. I must also mention the vocalists both do themselves many honours. 'Brace yourself under the sea', being one particular line I often anticipate and once delivered, experience a genuine physical response (tingling under the skin). Like their geographical counterpart Sleeping Peonies (who is from the east coast), Fever Sea seem to draw inspiration from the ocean surrounding the UK, but where as Sleeping Peonies feels more based in natural occurences and the pulse/cycle of water, Fever Sea seems more about being caught in the water's furious tides and being thrust up against the rocks. It shalln't be long until this band pens themselves a deal; and which ever label gets to them first should count themselves very lucky. To my ears, this is one of the most promising and exciting offerings to come out of the whole post metal or progressive metal genre in a very long time.


    #19: A Dead Forest Index - Antique

    A Dead Forest Index are a unique sibling duo from Australia making a totally engrossing music initiating eccentricisms of independent and generally left-field artistry but on a sound largely rooted in folk-rock. The vocals come at you in ever building layers, probably performed live using a loop station. At their best these voices create sorrowful pools of pastel shade to just plunge your face in to and have the cold currents of sound fill and cleanse your senses. Anchoring The Hands is an amazing track which starts almost jovially with a catchy verse and flows into a nice hook in the chorus but earlier in the song than you expect, when the structure would normally continue to progress in a verse/chorus direction, it dissolves with a deep, pulsating, tribal interruption before a harrowingly soulful round of vocals begin. This is invigorating and exciting stuff, which will grow on you and blossom into something very personal indeed. 'Antique' is an EP that has truly wet my appetite for A Dead Forest Index's debut full length, expected in 2013.


    #18: Hexvessel - No Holier Temple

    Last year, Hexvessel blew my mind with their debut album 'Dawnbearer'. To produce a follow up less than a year later is virtually unheard of, but No Holier Temple has shown that the creative marriage between Mat McNerney and the musicians of Dark Buddah Rising is an immensely fruitful one! This album does everything a successful follow up should, with an introduction of extra ideas. There's a fair bit of overdriven guitar growling away on this one, challenging the 'Neo Folk' element to the 'Occult Rock' of the debut with what can only be described as a sort of 'pagan doom'. All the while, not straying far from the mystical, new-age, spiritual and gypsy references at the music's core. Imagine my glee. Late at night, loud in my headphones this album is private transportation for the spirit. A glorious commute to a land where the inanimate becomes animate and the structural occultation which is the veil we call 'reality' is challenged. I think this album is stronger than Dawnbearer but I can't score it higher and the 'why' is simply that the debut earned superlative points purely based on my initial reaction, which was of ecstacy, suprise and wonderment. Now if we can just coax these enchanted folk over to the UK for a show or two.


    #17: Godspeed You! Black Emperor - 'Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!

    (Review pending)


    #16: Laster - Wijsgeer & Narreman

    Laster are a Dutch band making a rare breed of supremely dark and epic black metal in homage to Goethe's masterpiece 'Faust'. I don't know much of that particular work, although I did recently visit Goethe's home and dedicated museum in Frankfurt, which was fascinating and so I can associate what I know about the man with this band's bewitching sound. Laster's first demo begins with a tentative swell of feedback, the snare rattles in resonating response, it sounds like we're in a rehearsal room with them, the strings scrape a bit and the drums offer a count in, and then we're hit with a wall of utter magic. An almost perfect organic representation is on display here with every instrument captured with a grim live realism. The atmosphere when this was recorded sounds so intense and charged with power and emotion. The session was clearly mastered as it's all at a decent loudness and the finished product sounds full and broad even though I'm sure only a couple of microphones were being used here. This simple representation just suits the whirlpool of sounds perfectly to my ears. The guitarists let loose and ferociously tear through soul jarringly voiced riffs and I've really listened very closely to the two guitars here and every moment of their playing is teeming with passion and meaning. The vocals bounce from the walls and come up just under the music at a perfect level. These rasps are relatively inhuman, filled with self flagelistic satisfaction. The drummer just plays the perfect beat with the perfect feel, bringing out the absoluteness of the enthralling cacophony he accompanies. I can't wait to hear more from this utterly spectacular band.


    #15: Vemod - Venter på stormene

    (Review Pending)


    #14: Kayo Dot - Gamma Knife

    Not really proud to admit this but one of the items on my bucket list is to be upstairs on a double decker bus when it takes a corner too sharply at high speed and tips over. I wouldn't want to anticipate this, like arrange it, I'd just want it to happen tragically and spontaneously. And similarly the first feeling I get when test results come back clear from the doctors is disappointment. Which is morbid and bad but probably a natural thing? And thirdly, I did used to give thought to receiving brain surgery, knowing your face needed to be peeled off traditionally, but perhaps more terrifyingly, now they can do it by otherworldly methods, which are the subject of Kayo Dot's latest EP. Gamma Knife by Kayo Dot gives me the sense of being suspended over my own body and having to witness the almost magical procedure in unblinking detail. The opening track is the haunting anaesthetic that lulls you into a perceived 'out-of-body' or 'astral' state, with tubular bells and haunting choral vocals. The following three tracks, which weave virtuosic discordance in a swirling, visceral and meditative musical display, are the procedure and the perceived horror. Allow yourself the intricacies of each instrument, and imagine each of these as the complicated methods used to incise the skull, to remove or replace the grey matter. All these little changes rewiring that which makes you who you are - your 'presence' or 'consciousness'. Or if you're more inclined - your spirit. And these three ghastly tracks have you witness that, willingly or not. You have to hover above yourself, knowing when you return to your awakening body in the final beautiful sonnet like ballad, whether for good or bad, you'll never feel the same. I love this return to more traditional heavy timbres.


    #13: Ehnahre - Old Earth

    (Review pending)


    #12: Alcest - Les voyages de l'Âme

    (Review pending)


    #11: Omega Centauri - Universum Infinitum

    This is visceral and intelligent music. Intricate and challenging in all the ways Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord offer, with a grand production and scintillating atmospheres. This really is a masterful work. I like space. These guys like space. They also have the ability to translate the wonderment and vastness of the universe into musical form, with dream like melodies and huge progressive chord sequences over odd metrics making for an explorative vision of sound. Lots of moments are almost through composed, with very little repetition and when things do re-occur it's like a spiral, with little details changing all the time. All this adds up to a pretty exhausting experience and I tend to listen to this album in little bursts rather than in one big go. But that's more my fault for not having the stamina to keep a firm grip as this vehicle twists and turns. Being prolific has it's benefits, but can also mean output becomes watered down or ideas can be rushed and so not meet their full potential - this album was actually composed over a five year period (and so the opposite is in effect to the pitfalls of artists trying to be prolific). This really shows, just in the level of detail through the arrangements and fact that the album contains no filler whatsoever. The instrumentalist and composer behind this project is called Tom Vallely, and has really honoured his vision for this band by taking his time on the recordings and compositions. I can't wait for the next installment, and will happily wait another 5 years if that'd mean it would be half this good!


    #10: Mondvolland - Pestvogel

    Mondvolland are based in the Netherlands and make black metal. Simple. This is only an EP, and it's even a bit of a push to call it that (2 full tracks, each are 5 minutes in length and a 3 minute instrumental acoustic piece). But saying that, as far as quality is concerned, this is one of the most consistent 14 minutes of music I've had the pleasure of consuming! If 'Amon Amarth' and 'Enslaved' got together and pooled all their best riffs into one beast of furiously simple yet hugely gratifying metal, I imagine this is what it might sound like. The first 15 seconds inspire corpse paint and plastic sword fights with imaginary ancient foes. Then after that, it's just crushingly sincere and invigoratingly emotive modern black metal - not much in ways of experimentation (until the last half of the second track which reminds me of Akercocke's brilliant weirdness) and nothing alarmingly 'different' to speak of in their sound. The only thing that sets it apart from hordes of other bands with this approach is it is on a whole new level of excellence. From one moment to the next the music completely holds my attention, each riff flows magnificently and the band times dynamic pay offs so they appear to be coming at you from every angle! Just no words for how epic these vocals are - one layer of guteral low shouts, one layer of raspy high screams and then a bottom layer of clean baritonal droning. Listen carefully. This is 14 minutes of pure unrelenting brilliance. (And it's completely free from the band's website: Mondvolland)


    #9: Les Discrets - Ariettes oubliées

    (Review pending)


    #8: Anathema - Weather Systems

    Anathema are back performing yet another soul jarring effort of borderline spiritual rock/post rock/ambient/electronic/metal which has left me breathless after every spin. With Anathema, the song writing has always shone through - regardless of the production (which in retrospect has sometimes been a little adequate and flat when compared to this latest sonically pristine artifact). I loved 'We're Here Because We're Here' musically, but I think Steve Wilson's mixes are so 'safe' sounding and the aim seems to be toward clarity rather than dynamics. The new album has a tonne of dynamics, and so many layers - it's like swimming in a rainbow of sound. The vocals are so epic they hurt, with more duets than ever. Both Vinny and Lee have improved to the point of almost being at a classical standard (who'd have thought Vincent Cavanagh would've reached these levels when the history is that he was shoed-in on vocal duties back during their doom years when Darren White left, at the time filling the void with a damn good impression of White's morose doomed moans/monologues and despairing screams). Last years Falling Deeper impressed me on every level, and in a parting statement I said if Anathema could marry the lush orchestral harmonics and the more dynamic based structures to their usual rock textures, they would potentially produce their greatest material to date. I think weather Systems achieves exactly this.


    #7: Pallbearer - Sorrow and Extinction

    Last year we had 40 Watt Sun, bearing the torch for the monolithic, slow and harrowing melodic doom metal with an album that paid homage to just about every amazing doom band since the genre's conecption. This year we have Pallbearer. After a hugely promising demo they've succesfully exceeded the hype with their first full length Sorrow and Extinction - A doom metal album that also refrences and builds on the music of every slow band that has ever mattered, with a huge sprinkling of their own retrospective charm and an ability to bleed every inch of heaviness out of their instruments. The vocals are captured incredibly on what sounds like some old ribbon mic, giving it that 50/60's sort of distortion and analogue grainy-ness. Even though the vocalist sings with quite a high register, he sounds consistently confrontational and has an amazing ability to choose melodys that initiate an ecstatic response. The guitar riffs are somewhere between YOB style chuggathons and Warning-esque single note harmonies, with lots of big pauses and feedback and all that kind of stuff. One of my favourite tracks is actually off the demo, and is called devoid of redemption. The symbiosis between the riffs and vocals in the last half of this song are unimaginably epic. I return to this album regularly and find myself experiencing it in different ways, and so it's certainly had a real longevity alot of the music I listen to lacks. As far as doom is concerned, I can't see there being a release more grand than this any time soon.


    #6: Finster - Existenz

    Finster are a German black metal band fronted by an artist I've begun to follow quite closely. This enigmatic artist is A1V, who also solely composes for one of the only successful space-inspired metal bands I've heard called Alrakis. In Finster however, A1V is responsible for the drumming and vocal duties only. Finster's approach is aggressive and true to the roots of black metal with literally no ambient or acoustic passages to offer relent to the sonically and emotionally punishing compositions. With the tone constantly set at a raging dynamic, you'd think your ear might tire of the lack of variation. Wrong. Finster are one of few bands who don't welcome you with breaks in the mood of their pieces, but instead strangulate with such ingeniously carved intensity that you have no room to croak a word of criticism or indeed, surrender. Very few 'back to basics' bands weave this level of sophistication into their inherently primal musical objectives, but emotionally, on some base level, this music really connects with me and then on every other level it pulls me right in. Since buying their album I've allowed myself a daily dose of their bewitching misanthropic outpourings.


    #5: Asva & Philippe Petit - Empires Should Burn

    With 2011’s 'Presences of Absences', Asva created the absolute highlight of the year, and a release which became a momentous break through in my ability as a listener to appreciate drone. I can't explain what it is about Stuart Dahlquist's compositions that elicit such an emotional response, I think I've just been patient with his approach and at some point the textures in his music have become a part of me. Empires should burn is actually a collaboration with fellow experimental musician and composer Philippe Petit, whose contributions are more inclined to fragmented, pointillist groupings of quite chromatic aleatoric melodies with a steeper attack than the culling drones. This engraves a far sharper silhouette around the faceless character drawn by the massive beds of nebulous ambience. Joining Dahlquist and Petit, we're also introduced to various guest orators, each one given their own piece to deliver a poetic and disturbing spoken narrative over. I was particularly excited to read Jarboe had lent out her bewildering vocal talents. This music has an atmosphere that instantly gets into your blood. It feels like pausing life on the very moment before cataclysm befalls the earth (if in that last moment you felt fear and were weighed down by negative reflections). The opening track is twenty-plus minutes of nightmarish, surreal and beautiful tension, with the dry lips of Edward Ka-Spel pressed firmly to your ear, telling you about a character, linked through his moniker to Cain, a religious allegory, the beta of man - son of the snake in the Garden of Eden. He is sat in isolation, hallucinating vividly that he has been trapped in a room since the dawn of time, and will still be there in the end. Images of the people he despises idolising him seems to warm him at times, the insanity soon turns to paranoia, a click of the fingers and everything changes... god delusions lead to murderous intentions. And if this allegory is meant literally, it's a very dark one. We leave Cain behind and the hammered dulcimer from the tracks introduction comes crashing in. This level of art honours even tragedy, and feels almost premonitory to an event in America which shook the world, and took place mere months after the albums release. Listen loudly and with due respect, and what you will experience will frighten and enlighten you as much as it will reward you.


    #4: Sleeping Peonies - s l o w l y d i s a p p e a r i n g

    Sleeping Peonies makes deeply human and eerie/mystical music with a DIY aesthetic, lending, blending and bending genres such as black metal, electro, pop, shoegaze and screamo. This release is an EP and it is glorious. So far Sleeping Peonies has only ever done EP's, but I think it certainly works in its creator's favour as we're dealt just enough material to really get sunk into and focus on. The arrangement is so stacked up and the structures are so unique that a two minute song has more going on than most bands 9 minute opuses. I did a huge review of last years 'Ghosts & Other Things' (HERE) and in that review I sort of broke down Sleeping Peonies' sound and what it means to me, so I shalln't go in to that amount of detail again. This set of tracks has moved on from the previous releases and has pushed the influences to further extremes. Now we have more catchy pop moments in the synths, but also more thunderous and intimidating scuzzy walls of apocalyptic noise in the guitars. The drums are brilliant as ever and I got such a glad/familiar feeling when I heard that slowly deccaying delay on the snare and ride which is a massive signature of Nic Smith's utterly unique production style. Speaking of that, this is exactly what DIY music is about for me - creating something true and unique to yourself with whatever resource you have available. An artist as wonderful as Nic uses his setup and equipment to truly lay his ideas bare and manages to create extremely personal and evocative music. This EP gets me thinking about days that were more care free. It reminds me that I had a really happy childhood for the most part, before the loss of innocence we experience as we inherit the world of our previous generation and see friendships go by the wayside. Sounds sad? If I'd kept a time capsule filled with important and deeply nostalgic trinkets from the first 19 years of my life, I could quite easilly abandon it and replace it with the music Nic has offered here. Lastly, I've read that Nic is putting Sleeping Peonies to rest for a while now, which is a shame, but also adds value to the works he's gifted us with so far, and its assuring that as an artist he'll only return to these ghostly shores when the time is right and he feels there's a genuine calling to do so.


    #3: Vaura - Selenelion

    Vaura are a collection of well known musicians based in New York (members of Kayo Dot, Gorguts and Religious to Damn) making music that truly transcends description (although Toby Driver jokingly described this as 'Weakling' meets 'The Police', with tonnes of other bands thrown in for comedy effect. If I had to pick two bands I would've said 'Krallice' and 'Echo & The Bunnymen'). Through art-rock, black metal and just avant-garde sensibilities in general, these experimenters communicate an extremely streamline vision of emotive mellancholy on an intelligent and mind broadening spectrum. The guitars are really stacked up here to create lush fields of colour and character with melodies that glisten through on the wings of an astounding production. The musicianship is fierce and flawless, but more in the understanding of lyrical performance than in the level of virtuosity on display. Vocally we're dealt a clean and morose tone bordering on the choral. This is very unique and delivered with touching sincerity. Shouty territory is also visited to immense and violating effect when and where appropriate. It's hard to pick highlights on Selenelion because from start to finish the album is a completely consistent journey - a truly monolithic vision neatly knitted together with the musical syntax of a brilliantly conceived symphony. Saying that, however, my favourite track is probably the most aggressive offering on the album "The Emanation". Repeated listens have proven increasingly rewarding and I'm so incredibly connected to what Vaura have achieved here.


    #2: Ancestors - In Dreams and Time

    This album has been a truly one-of-a-kind experience for me. I am completely new to this band and haven't looked back at their discography yet, so there'll be no comparisons to where they've come and how they've developed, but as an introduction this album stimulated me on every level good music should! They're playing a wonderfully tasteful amalgamation of styles, all basically underpinned by doom guitars and a sort of 70's progressive organ sound, but without a detailed description, you can't be truly representative of the extent of Ancestors' aural achievements. They can crush you (Whispers!), they can take you on a trip (Corryvreckan/Running in Circles), they can make you feel introverted (the Last Return/on the wind) and they also offer moments of epic celebration for the extrovert (best track I've heard this year, First Light). The closer is a compelling, emotive and utterly astonishing 20 minute epic which dissolves early into this cloud of sound which progresses to a gorgeous chord sequence lead by the bass and organ. These chords build and build while a story is told by a truly heroic guitar solo. I was marching through town in the wind and rain blasting this section on my ear phones and every time the last chord hit, the drums tumbling before smashing back in, the lead guitar making some melodic suggestion as to how much higher this epic can ascend I found my chest barely able to contend with the utter anticipation. And With jaw clenched eventually a thunderous rhythm guitar part comes in under this jam and it's a release I can only compare to seeing Sigur Ros perform 'Popplagið' (Untitled 8) live. I'm thankful beyond words to the beings that created this album. It's given me something to be certain of; that all of those blind corners awaiting us, big scary decisions or even the equally frightening concept of rusting out in monotony and routine, it's good to know there's music like 'In Dreams and Time' to fall back on... and things will be fruitful, colourful and meaning will continue to prevail.


    #1: The Water Witch - The Heavens in Traction

    The Water Witch is a solo-project from West Yorkshire by J. Cumiskey, who has taken advantage of his fraternal musical connection with the members of his previous band A Forest of Stars, utilising their abilities as recording artists for the utterly astonishing 'The Heavens in Traction' (Curse providing some vocals; The Gentleman, the drums and Kathryn, the violin). The result is a truly inspired, mesmerising, emotional and in a certain way, spiritual look at the capabilities of our being as a vessel to communicate the natural energies that surround us. The bleak and punishing musical ideas on display here are bled from the mantle, mud, stone, moss, vegetation, sky, sun, stars and galaxies as Cumiskey has opened the iris of his spirit to absorb, process and translate the universe as he sees it into a mordant musical divination. From the opening track 'Winter's Burden', which at the five minute mark has a soliloquy similar to (early) Anathema's morose monologuing, building to an epic chundering death-doom riff with glacial leads soaring to the precipice of a tear jerking climax, if you're not completely hooked then you are doing something very wrong. The guitar tone is so gutsy and clear and it's perfect for the rhythm riffs which are sometimes quite static and hypnotic, just wailing away on a particularly expressive chord with the drums heavily grooving underneath. The lead work on the guitar is more melodically kinetic, making use of the occasional bit of mind stressing dissonance, as well as plenty of unusual articulation techniques (E-bow for instance). This is all glorified by an absolutely stunning performance by R. Blakelock on drums, who hits incredibly hard on the grooves but then flutters with jazz like grace for his fills which add lots of variety to the longer passages. It's like a Jotun with the dexterity of a humming bird. D. Eyre's vocal contributions are as emotionally charged as they have ever been, with howl's, grunts and lyrical contributions showing a true connection to Cumiskey's cathartic concept. Cumiskey's vocals, which were often in the background on the first two AFoS albums are very much in the foreground here and work well in juxtaposition to the manic orations and are just as formidable. Now’s the time to mention this potential landmark album is only available digitally through Bandcamp for the time being, and it would seem there are no labels lined up to release this (a fact that literally shocked me). Be one of the few to hear this album now, and in ten years time you can brag you were there at the beginning. The Water Witch on bandcamp (2 preview tracks, £4 for the seven track album).

  • 58-ish Reviews For 2011.

    3 Jan 2012, 10:10 by XfnSnow

    These are my write-ups for releases I have enjoyed above and beyond. About the reviews; it's my first attempt to write in this way. I started the year with a jokey sort of tone but as the list got bigger I started being more responsible with my formality. Whether or not people agree with my list or comments, I'm sure we can all agree this has been an absolutely amazing year! (UPDATE 03.01.2012) I have added some albums to the list which I haven't reviewed yet just to try reign in a bit of closure on the year.

    I did a video with sound bites of my favourite tracks, if there's a lot of stuff you haven't checked out on this list, it's probably the best way to see what you're into with minimal effort:

    2014 JOURNAL

    2013 JOURNAL

    2012 JOURNAL

    Support for my own DIY project is much appreciated:
    Courtsleet - Facebook | SoundCloud | bandcamp |

    List (reviews follow):

    1. Asva - Presences of Abscences. 10/10 (100%)
    2. Tenhi - Saivo. 10/10 (98%) (not yet reviewed)
    3. Ulver - Wars of the Roses. 10/10 (98%)
    4. Hexvessel – Dawnbearer. 10/10 (97%)
    5. Omega Massif – Karpatia. 10/10 (97%)
    6. Sleeping Peonies - Ghosts & Other Things. 10/10 (96%)
    7. Alrakis – Alpha Eri. 10/10 (96%)
    8. Cold Body Radiation – Deer Twilight 9/10 (95%)
    9. 40 Watt Sun - The Inside Room. 9/10 (94%)
    10. Altar of Plagues – Mammal. 9/10 (93%)
    11. Oranssi Pazuzu - Kosmonument. 9/10 (93%) (not yet reviewed)
    12. Blut aus Nord - 777 Sect(s). 9/10 (93%)
    13. Krallice – Diotima. 9/10 (93%)
    14. Mitochondrion - Parasignosis. 9/10 (93%)
    15. Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage. 9/10 (92%)
    16. *shels - Plains of the Purple Buffalo. 9/10 (92%) (not yet reviewed)
    17. Wiht – The Harrowing of the North. 9/10 (92%)
    18. 1000 Funerals – Butterfly Decadence. 9/10 (92%)
    19. Natural Snow Buildings - Waves of the Random Sea. 9/10 (92%)
    20. Exxasens - Eleven Miles. 9/10 (92%) (not yet reviewed)
    21. Khuda – Iecava. 9/10 (92%)
    22. Falloch – Where Distant Spirits Remain. 9/10 (91%)
    23. Tartar Lamb II - Polyimage of Known Exits. 9/10 (91%)
    24. Nightbringer - Hierophany of the Open Grave. 9/10 (91%)
    25. Esoteric - Paragon of Dissonance. 9/10 (90%) (not yet reviewed)
    26. Aosoth – III. 9/10 (90%)
    27. Acolyte - Leng. 9/10 (90%)
    28. Revokation – The End Ablated. 9/10 (90%)
    29. An Autumn for Crippled Children – Everything. 9/10 (89%)
    30. Dornenreich - Flammentriebe. 9/10 (89%)
    31. Anathema - Falling Deeper. 9/10 (88%)
    32. Deafheaven - Roads to Judah. 9/10 (88%)
    33. Disma – Towards the Megalith. 9/10 (87%)
    34. Álfheimr - What Allows us to Endure. 9/10 (86%)
    35. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen. 9/10 (86%)
    36. Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand. 8/10 (85%)
    37. Woods of Desolation - Torn Beyond Reason. 8/10 (85%)
    38. Luup - Meadow Rituals. 8/10 (84%) (not yet reviewed)
    39. Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All. 8/10 (84%)
    40. Lantlos - Agape. 8/10 (84%) (not yet reviewed)
    41. Deaf Center - Owl Splinters. 8/10 (83%)
    42. Helheim – Heiðindómr ok Mótgangr. 8/10 (83%)
    43. Virus - The Agent That Shapes the Dessert. 8/10 (81%)
    44. Nucleus Torn - Golden Age. 8/10 (81%) (not yet reviewed)
    45. Clair Cassis - Luxury Absolute. 8/10 (80%)
    46. . Sun Devoured Earth – Good Memories Are Hardest To Keep. 8/10 (80%)
    47. Potmos Hetoimos – Evelyn. 8/10 (80%)
    48. Wizard's Beard - Pure Filth. 8/10 (79%)
    49. Heretoir - Heretoir. 8/10 (78%)
    50. Xerath - II. 8/10 (77%)
    51. Dead to a Dying World - Dead to a Dying World. 8/10 (76%)
    52. Grails – Deep Politics. 7/10 (75%)
    53. Petrychor – Effigies and Epitaphs. 7/10 (74%)
    54. Solstafir - Svartir Sandar. 7/10 (72%) (not yet reviewed)
    55. Caïna – Hands that Pluck. 7/10 (70%)
    56. Fen - Epoch. 7/10 (66%)
    57. Loss – Despond. 6/10 (64%)
    58. A Storm of Light – As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade. 6/10 (61%)

    1000 Funerals – Butterfly Decadence 9/10 (92%)

    1000 Funerals are a melodic doom project hailing from Iran! He exclaimed. The sound on offer here is dense, mature, harrowing and all in all a journey of fresh colours for a genre which can be both empowering but when not executed with the right finesse, perhaps a little exhausting. This is nothing but the prior. If I sound surprised, it’s because I am... and now also perhaps a little naiive as to assume that amazing music of such extreme nature would struggle to flourish under the political and social conditions in Iran - those being that the nation’s absolutely wonderful people are continually tested under a tyrannous regime of misogynistic religious fundamentalism.

    Where even mood enhancing drugs like alcohol are outlawed and to have it, people need to either brew it themselves or smuggle it. And worse still, imported music also needs to be smuggled and traded in an almost black market style (no doubt the government is afraid of anything that could be seen as encouraging rebellious attitudes, and anything sympathetic or of benefit to western culture and its economy - who in some ways they’re right to demonize, but certainly not for our freedoms to artistic expression and democracy). Hopefully the internet has made this easier than the tales I used to hear of bootleg tapes being handled and dealt like it was uncut cocaine.

    I am aware, it’s not as if every suburb in Iran has regular inspections from the authorities or armed guards at every street corner arresting and beating every third citizen – but still... From a place where it is literally dangerous to express oneself in the way 1000 Funerals have, I applaud this effort and implore everyone who’s ever gotten a rise out of Swallow the Sun, Esoteric, Slumber, Funeral (Norway) or even harking back to the glory days of My Dying Bride and early Anathema – Butterfly Decadence will not disappoint you.

    Dark piano melodies often introduce pieces or sections, the drums come thundering in and drag your face along the ground at a sloth’s pace while reverb saturated guitars chug and churn away – vocals screaming and soaring while occasionally a flute-like timbre or violin takes up the lead and, in almost improvised fashion, produces flourishes over the poignant devastation. It’s hard to describe, and certainly if you’re not familiar with the lush and empowering romantic qualities of Scandinavian ‘melodoom’, you’ll struggle to get your head around the majesty of this without having to just bite the bullet and give it a listen. I truly think this is the only successor to ‘From These Wounds’ by Norway’s own melodic doom band Funeral.

    I feel partly bad for focussing my first two paragraphs of this review on the plight of the Iranian people, especially not knowing as much as I think I know about the current conditions there? It is just something that’s always interested me (perhaps I’m slightly more of a bleeding heart liberal than I’d care to admit), I’ve supported notions of a free Iran, and maybe instead of seeing this as a flower somehow miraculously flourishing from the waste, I should see this as a light; a signal that the brave citizens of such an accursed place can finally add their voice to the choir of global musical movements that actually mean something. Not just that, but in this instance 1000 Funerals have expanded the boundaries of musical excellence achievable under the conventions of the melodic doom metal genre.

    40 Watt Sun - The Inside Room. 9/10 (94%)

    Well, having recently found out there was this truly immense doom band from the UK called Warning, who released a completely stellar album named 'Watching From A Distance' in 2006, I'm obviously excited to hear more or less the same band has reformed under a different name to release The Inside Room under the Moniker '40 Watt Sun' this year!

    The album literally picks up where 'watching' left off... Miserable and huge guitar melodies yearning under pummelling heavy handed drumming and all providing the basis for the melodic tone of one of the most amazing vocals I can recall hearing on a record. It is actually a very 'un-metal' way of singing, but the passion... goddamn the passion? It is insane. This guy is really sad about something.

    Lyrically, it seems there's been a love lost at some point or a connection broken and it has really cut this guy up. This guy is called Pat Walker, and is a new hero of mine. I wish him nothing but happiness. But also, not too much, or his music won't be sounding like this anymore ('Turn your face to the moon; Let me see you that way. And the way you appear to me now you’d think the moon would hide for shame'). Just... wow.

    It invokes the same feelings of heartache and loss as Anathema's 'Pentecost III', or My Dying Bride's 'Turn Loose the Swans'... But I can't stress enough that these vocals are serious business and the guitars are really heavy and dense.

    My only criticism is if you listen to this back to back with 'Watching from a Distance', the guitar tone is noticeably worse. There's a throaty EQ on it and the distortion is gravelly and not as full bodied. The mix is still extremely heavy though, so I'm in two minds as to whether or not it actually detracts from the experience? That said, maybe Pat Walker's sadness and longing comes from the fact that he had to sell his fucking disgracefully heavy amp setup and is now playing through a fender practice amp with a Boss MT2 (Honestly, I jest, It’s nothing as bad as that!). After returning to this album again and again, it has crawled up my list and made it into my final top ten.

    A Winged Victory For The Sullen – A Winged Victory for the Sullen. 9/10 (86%)

    A pinch more variety for a year of music that’s over-flowing with superlative releases from artists of every genre, hybrid and movement - a winged victory for the sullen are an instrumental duo providing compositions of monumentally beautiful, atmospheric and minimalistic(ish) neo-classical.

    I’d describe this as Interior film-music. It aches with the same longing as Thomas Newman’s soundtrack for the film ‘American Beauty’, yet carries all the subjectivity to make this a malleable and deeply emotional journey for its audience, with absorbing strings and poignant piano shaping moods of melancholy and hope alike.

    Using the word ‘Victory’; implying positivity, change and perseverance and the word ‘Sullen’; implying melancholy, depression and angst, the titled of this album and project couldn’t be more apt. A piano of this quality and played this well can tell such a tale – with sad minor melodies occasionally finding jazzy yet hopeful resolutions, and the strings often a warming undercurrent, also provide thick chords which, although not ‘triumphant’ sounding (I think ‘victory’ and ‘triumph’ and I think of fanfare) certainly help communicate moments of life affirming equilibrium in the sullen dirge.

    For someone with my tastes and musical inclinations, those being more towards aggressive and raucous styles, this sort of music is extremely therapeutic and can accompany me while I work, travel, or just sit back and relax, wholly calm... it can also detoxify my ears of the brutality I so often subject them to. To some people, who would no doubt be a more suitable audience for this kind of music than myself, I’m certain this would be found to be quite heavy going and they may struggle to find nothing but pleasure, as I do, from the listening experience. This is no doubt subject to the sparse timbre and choice textures which may feel somewhat 'empty' and thus stark and sorrowful to some.

    Speaking of timbre and textures, this feels like the metaphorical ‘yang’ if ‘Deaf Center’ (another compositional duo whose release ‘Owl Splinters’ I have also reviewed) was the musical ‘yin’, a band with a similar compositional approach, yet far more negativity is implied on a whole, with the latter being a far darker experience.

    As far as I know this is ‘A Winged Victory’s...’ maiden voyage. I sincerely hope there’s more to come...

    Acolyte - Leng. 9/10 (90%)

    Here's a band I've had the absolute pleasure of seeing live on a couple of occasions. Actually, I was lucky enough to be on the bill with them at their first gig. I'd heard some demos and sketches of their songs before seeing them and I really liked the tone and riffing style. Hasten to say I've been a long for the ride on the build up to this EP and at every twist in events I've being nothing if not extremely impressed by what was on offer.

    The EP contains three tracks, each a distinctive and epic character, symptomatic of a sound Acolyte have spent years crafting before unleashing their output on the hordes. This sound is a sophisticated and avant-garde approach to grooved out black'n'roll with unavoidable elements of shoe gaze and epic/progressive black metal. Somewhere between Enslaved, Virus and Opeth but with more emphasis on customer satisfaction. Let me state very clearly (for the record), Acolyte don't sound as if they're aspiring to sound like these bands (who are at the very top of their respective genres), nor do they sound derivative of these bands. Acolyte have merely taken on board certain musical conventions and blended them into their own extremely rewarding and individual sound that is without question, shoulder to shoulder with said peers.

    The EP opens with a massive riff and demonic vocals. I can't help but think this introduction was planned as a massive smash in the face. Sort of shaking off any subtlety and getting straight to the point. This definitely displays a certain craftsmanship beyond simply being able to write great songs. Anyway, statement made, through the discourse of the EP the music rarely relents and if it does, it's only to build to an even mightier climax than before (for instance, in the latter half of Leng when there's a jazzy and almost clean play-off between the guitars that builds and eventually explodes into a massive solo which could've been played by Akerfeldt himself).

    The divinity of the music on offer is further qualified by an absolutely top notch production. This beast is heavy and the guitar tone isn't just nicely achieved, it's literally something to be admired! A perfect blend of throaty mids, crunchy highs and churning lows. Pure Orange power I reckon.

    I have it on reasonable authority that Acolyte hope to record their full length before either a hiatus or a reshuffling of the line-up might be needed at the end of the year. I know the main creative force in the band has more than enough material written and demo'd to last for a few albums to come, as he openly shares his ideas and sketches on his soundcloud page as they come into fruition. Oh, and it all sounds very special indeed. You'd be doing your gene pool a massive injustice if you didn't take 25 minutes out of your schedule to be enchanted by this extremely special offering.

    Álfheimr - What Allows us to Endure. 9/10 (85%)

    The album starts... Hang on... These happy chimes... That lung crushing synth bass... The falsetto voice... the distorted drum sound... This sounds... familiar?.. But when I check myself, I'm running through a city centre laughing with absolute joy trying to catch up with my bus. When I catch up to the bus, I sit down and read the track name "A song for laughter and forgetting", and it's bloody strange, I never run in public... I forget about my inhibitions for a second because of this music... and why the hell was I laughing? I had just had a big swig of energy drink... pure endorphin fix I suppose?

    So Alfheimr is a force of mystical genius? Great coincidental little experience to introduce me to this post-rock solo project of complete Sigur Ros worship.

    These compositions are absolutely beautiful. This guy needs his hand shaking by everyone in the world simultaneously for putting this little thing together. You can attach both happy or sad feelings to these songs. Some speak of longing, some of hope, some just of life and experiences...

    The music builds and plods, and never really explodes, just shifts focus. But it's a constantly appeasing process where the energy and perpetual dynamic drags you along on the journey.

    Although I'd wager only a certain clientele are going to stomach this and let it into their heart - Some people are just too seized up to let this kind of enlightening art in, others will just have major hang ups over the intense similarity it bares to the forefather of this genre. Then there's me, sat on the branch of a tree, a thousand feet above the city in which I work, feet swinging in the wind, watching people and cars and busses and trains dance this beautiful, brief and ultimately futile dance we call life... Nah, not really... just had to use some soppy Post-rock imagery to sign out this review.

    Alrakis – Alpha Eri 10/10 (96%)

    Gazing at the stars has never had such a profound accompaniment. Not just descriptive in its bleak atmospheric depictions of space, but also terrifying when the howling guitars supernova onto the scene. With the beauty of the Northern Lights and the terror of a black hole, Alrakis single handedly brings the audience closer to the stars than science could ever hope and shines a black-light on the further reaches of our galaxy.

    Once the Hubble telescope was trained on a tiny dark spot in the night’s sky, between stars immediately visible by its superior lens. The telescope was left to absorb light for a month (to photography people, that’s like setting your shutter speed to 30 days). The results were startling: hundreds of galaxies, usually hidden from the naked eye, but now in profound focus. One of these galaxies disturbed researchers greatly and has been a mystery ever since. When measured, the sheer vastness of this galaxy defied any physical rules our greatest minds could comprehend, and to this date the mass of stars cannot be explained by any logic or reason that currently exists. These chilling and inconceivable mysteries are the galvanising spirit behind this massive infliction of sound.

    When I say massive, I mean the frequential space is completely filled to bursting, but neatly done so the ear rejoices. The pace is doom-like, but the saw tooth guitars and stacks of synthesized timbre roar as ferociously as VY Canis Majoris’ fires (VY CMa is the largest known star - if you imagine our sun is a tennis ball, Canis Majoris would be roughly the equivalent size of the earth).

    So far I’ve found it easier to talk about space in comparative terms to what Alrakis does for me, but I’m aware not everyone finds the infinity of the cosmos worthy of analogy (you fucking heathens) so in terms of other bands, Xasthur’s hypnotic doomed edge with Blut Aus Nord’s melodic augmentations, the isolating tormented atmosphere of Lustmord and the spaced out sci-fi feel of Hawkwind or Type O Negative. Then just execute that sort of ghastly marriage to absolute perfection.

    The fourth track, Sternenstaub is one of the most monolithic pieces of music I’ve ever heard. It absolutely destroys me. As soon as I heard it I just wanted to put my headphones on the nearest person and watch their face for the moment the track kicks in.

    Altar of Plagues – Mammal 9/10 (93%)

    From the first blast of dissonant and pummelling sonic terrorism, it’s very clear Altar of Plagues have their serious business jackets on for this album. The opening song ‘Neptune Is Dead’ has been ringing in my ears ever since I first heard it. Altar of Plagues are without a doubt one of the leading post-rock/metal influenced black metal bands – somehow squeezing the cold, apocalyptic and alienating essences of Neurosis out through vicious riffs and blast beats.

    The atmosphere is absolutely dripping here, with the occasional found sound and strange non-musical additions to the mix creating a haunting cloud that looms over the music – music which sounds like it is blasting from a valley, holding a thunderstorm at bay, or at least giving nature’s impending savage exultation a hard act to follow.

    The vocals go between a sort of ‘more talented’ Silver Mount Zion-esque holler (totally amazing) to wails/shouts of horror and anger (also pretty fucking amazing). It wouldn’t surprise me to find the band are more influenced by power violence, grind and hardcore like converge, rather than Burzum and Bathory. There are also some guest vocals from a crooning old lady. This is hideous! Very scary sounding. Hasten to say it works extremely well and, in fact, is probably my favourite part of the album.

    Sometimes the energy pulsating from this sonic artefact is extra terrestrial, and sometimes it’s quite modern and urban. This is a good mix as it opens up how the music can be portrayed and enjoyed. But then the way I enjoy this music is in a physically collapsed state, where I allow Altar of Plagues to get behind the wheel and just take me to distant, hopeless, unknown and sinister places. It is truly a humbling listen.

    An Autumn for Crippled Children – Everything. 9/10 (89%)

    Last year AAFCC (named after an Ebonylake song) made their debut in crippling style with LP ‘Lost’. Their sound instantly won me over, edged with industrial ugliness yet melodically gothic and at times poppy, all grated out through vicious black metal sensibilities. ‘Everything’ takes the unique elements, and runs with them, meaning more interesting ‘electronica’, more epic/glacial tremolo-picked guitar and even more puzzlingly prominent bass lines.

    The production is just the right sort of grim, with lots of noisy frequencies exhuming the bands malicious intentions. The fuzz in the guitars is cleverly balanced with the various saw-tooth synth and piano sounds as to not clutter the air, yet still assault the ear. This scuzzy sound also aids in disguising any artificial elements to the drums.

    Melodically, the band has a lot in common with ‘shoegaze’ and 80’s gothic pop/rock. This adds sinister undertones to the prominent conventions in the music and makes the journey into their world all the more twisted, alienating and surreal. There’s a juxtaposition that makes me uneasy here. The band’s name is harrowingly sad and somewhat poetic, but definitely more likely to turn the heads of lowbrow gore-metal followers than highbrow avant-garde black metal fans; and yet the music has moments of serenity, beauty and even a sort of cheesiness to some of the synth patterns. I would think that to hardened fans of the most suicidal and depressing BM, the inclusion of pop conventions is probably really hard and challenging to swallow. To those who can, it’s a wonder to witness: the dance of genres who by very nature oppose each other.

    It is still a complete mystery who to accredit with this bands music, going by immensely vague roman numerals, or single Letter names for aliases. Of course, to those with an acute ear, I think we’ve pretty much worked out one crack in this well guarded secret and that is the member known as MXM is also probably responsible for ingenious solo project ‘Cold Body Radiation’ (under the slightly divertive name of... M.). The stand out track on ‘Everything’ for me is ‘Absence of Contrast’. Spectacular song writing with an epic pay off and mesmerising bass work!

    Anathema – Falling Deeper. 9/10 (88%)

    Crystalline temples disintegrate around me, shards refracting light, dazzling me, crashing to the ground and deafening me, but when the last piece lands it rings and then the silence reveals an opening out to a landscape of golden sand, ice capped mountains to the left and right, a black river through its centre which stretches an indeterminable distance to be devoured at the foot of multiple suns, dying on the horizon, some burning white hot, some small and red, each is an eye and casting spears from years and years before, which alter over time; no longer aimed at the head, now aimed directly at the heart.

    Pretence aside the ‘spear’ is Falling Deeper, Anathema’s new album which is in fact, re-workings of material from ‘Pentecost III’, ‘Crestfallen’ and ‘Serenades’. This wouldn’t be the first time Anathema has re-treated their material (Hindsight being acoustic or stripped down versions of their ‘best of’ tracks), and some people I’ve spoken to weren’t even sure if this was just another compilation, like ‘Resonance’ (part I or Part II), but re-packaged. It’d be a tragic case of boy-who-cried-wolf-syndrome if people were to let these assumptions based on the previous ‘not exactly a new album’ offerings hinder their path toward experiencing the absolute revelations contained within this high-brow masterpiece.

    Music is music, and whether a melody is screamed out through a distorted electric guitar, or faintly fluttered on a flute completely depends on what the artists elicit intentions are. For Anathema, this retrospective gaze into the very soul of the material still hailed today as some of the heaviest, most influential (and most depressing) doom metal ever written proves that beyond a shadow of a doubt, arrangement is an extremely inspired tool for a conjurer of sound to learn to wield. So delicate and so poignant, yet epic, flowing, expressive and withstanding from straight rock conventions of time frames, the almost suicidal motifs of our angst ridden childhood’s are explored, exploded and presented as a thing of pure hope and utter beauty.

    Vinnie’s singing on this is also angelic. He sings almost pure sine waves now. The requirement to hit notes extremely well and in a near perfect tuning is no doubt a pressure of the music itself, where now there are no harmonic overtones, distortion or just general clatter to disguise any imperfections in a mix of finely tuned/intoned strings, brass and woodwind. His voice, combined with the epic feed-backing guitar and the string quartet is a sonic match made in the halls of the Æsir.

    I’m incredibly excited to hear what Anathema plan to do next. Last year’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was a wonderful album, but if they could somehow amalgamate the orchestral structures they have so cleverly achieved on ‘Falling Deeper’ with the rugged heaviness of tracks like ‘A Simple Mistake’, they could achievably re-write the musical history books again, for like, the third or fourth time? Who’s counting anymore? Anathema are just wonderful and the world is twofold a better place with their music a constant.

    Aosoth – III. 9/10 (90%)

    Aosoth are a most worthy part of the French black metal scene, namely made up of bands like Deathspell Omega, Blut Aus Nord and Anorexia Nervosa. Their sound is extremely dark, complicated and evil and would no doubt appeal to those ‘bedroom dwelling’ black metal fanatics who like to separate bands by whether or not they are ‘Satanic’. I can’t speak for Aosoth ideologically, but sonically, I would say they are about as aligned with the beast as you can get!

    A similar avant-garde, throaty and cerebral assault to their fellow countrymen’s output is on display in the guitars. Lots of minor first intervals wrapped up in diminished flourishes. You’re hard pressed to find a single diatonic moment on the entire record. The voicing they do use quickly becomes idiosyncratic and upon the second listen, the album feels familiar from the offset, meaning Aosoth are successful in carving a massive and unique sound, instantly recognisable as their own, but also instantly recognisable as extremely French.

    The vocals are miserable, sorrowful and energetic. No complaints here whatsoever. The drums are technical but with an organic production, flowing between vicious blasts and mid tempo dirges. No complaints (except I’m not overly fond of the snare sound). The bass is audible. A huge plus on any black metal album (what an ignorant thing to say, I’m sorry).

    The production is really hard on my ears when listening in my ear phones. It’s devastating and mixed really well, not raw or silly like some bm, but just very full on with certain guitar frequencies that don’t sit on my ear drums right at all. Perhaps there was an issue with compression at some point in the mixing which brought some of the mids out too much. Not so much that I can pin point them, just to the point where I cannot listen to this album loudly without fearing for my brain being scrambled.

    This is another album that will reign top of a fair few people’s lists this year. They are just about obscure enough to give a person a couple of grim scene points for acknowledging they are a fan, and as they’re not as well known as Blut Aus Nord, they’re an obvious choice in the “Grvmmer thvn thov” culture which sullies the black metal underground. That said it’s not inconceivable for someone to genuinely like this album more than 777 Sect(s)... I just personally don’t. I truly recommend this though. It’s a work of terrible darkness and displays a genuinely artistic approach to channelling the embodiment of pure negativity into its listener/victim.

    Asva – Presences of Abscences. 10/10 (100%)

    Precursory note: as time has gone by this has become one of, if not my favourite album ever. This is just utter heaven in audio form, the inane ramblings of this review do not come close to doing it justice.

    ‘Presences of Abscences’ seems an apt titled for this immensely clever work of minimalistic ambient drone. I don’t know a huge amount about Asva, save for the fact that Toby Driver sings on this LP, which was the absolute selling point (his performance is just lush, emotional and vulnerable, but also in some ways stark and brave).

    The tracks are, of course, long and hard to digest on the first sitting, even when given your full attention. I struggled to find anything to grasp on to and thought maybe this was going to be one of those rare occasions where I just failed to hear the good in a highly regarded work. Of course I found despite struggling, I was giving this repeated listens out of habit more than obligation and then one day the album completely exploded in my ears... suddenly there was an intimidating eeriness to the organ, and the melodies were moving me in all the right directions. When Dahlquist’s deep drones do strike and the drums begin to groove away in their lo-fi splendour the catharsis is heavy and the dirge becomes ecstatic.

    The timbre makes me think of creaky, cold churches which have medieval blood for mortar. This not only taints the album with a slightly gothic perspective, it also cloaks it in a somewhat spiritual atmosphere. No doubt this is a really personal thing for me, but the few times I’ve been to church I have felt a sort of unexplainable spirituality despite being agnostic/pantheist. No doubt this feeling was socially engineered in me from childhood and maintained through the iconography and aesthetic splendour contained within these old stone haunts for the last of a dying faithful. Asva aren’t invoking the faux-spirituality I experience when I smell the wet stone, feel the sunshine on the back of my neck through the stained glass depiction of Jesus on the cross or hear those chorales echo uniquely in the church’s acoustics. What they are doing is sitting beside me and feeling it too. A sickly sweet and disparaged nostalgia to do with refuge, hope and faith. It’s just an empty box inside me. The box is present. The contents sadly absent.

    I’m certain this has nothing to do with Asva’s intentions, which were probably far more abstract than what I attach the music to. The main reason I say that is that there’s some curve balls presented in the odd samples of a lullaby and a section of bluesy acapella. Once again, I’m sure Asva allow this to be open to interpretation. To me it draws in an awareness of the contrasts between different cultures’ music, origins and ultimately their usage. Perhaps it is a brave move to parallel or juxtapose their own musical identity with (firstly) a song used to lull infants and (secondly) what sounds like a hymn possibly sung on plantation farms to raise the spirit of the slaves working there. What business does ambient drone have in this musical demographic? Well, apparently plenty – and obviously it’s not a question of ‘genres’ (in fact the question has never felt more irrelevant) it’s more the aural colours and sonic identities which are used to traject a soul in the ears of the listener.

    I had to revise the score on this one. I return to it so frequently and it has become utterly ingrained in me!

    Blut aus Nord - 777 Sect(s). 9/10 (93%)

    Probably the most anticipated black metal album of the year, not just because it's a new Blut Aus Nord release, but because it was revealed this was a continuation of the sound and themes on 'The Work Which Transforms God'... low and behold, it's a complete revelation. The project of grvim french maestro Vindsval has reached new levels of excellence in an arena of music for which BAN is already completely peerless.

    The album is made up of 6 Epitomes... I mean tracks... 'Epitome II' is a particularly amazing piece of work which has a similar vibe to 'Our Blessed Frozen Cells' and 'Procession of Dead Clowns' from 'TWWTG'. Also the poppy industrial section at the end of 'Epitome I' leading into Epitome II is just jaw dropping. 'Epitome IV' is a massive departure from the usual sound, using sort of polyrhythms and low tunings to make a churning mid-paced tumbling vortex. It really has to be heard to be believed and understood - Certainly not something I would've expected to hear from Blut Aus Nord, but definitely something I welcome with open arms. 'Epitome VI' is just pure hypnotic brilliance.

    The guitar is once again, microtonal and unique with clashing chromatic melodies that sound more like a tormented animal than a musical instrument. The level of thought that's gone into the composition, sound and riffing style is just cosmic and cerebral. The mind working to it's fullest in a massive meditative state.

    The drums are still programmed, but the kick and snare is more organic, and in 'objective' terms, offer an overall improval to the mix. I loved the drum sound on the other albums too, but this sort of ellivates the sound beyond what the composition of the guitars offer and means the huge production is also a ferocious force of focus.

    I'm not just gushing because I'm a big fan of Blut Aus Nord, This music is literally 'Art' in it's highest terms. To take something so unique, that on paper sounds like it would be a cacophonous mess... and craft into something with such a pleasing aesthetic, atmosphere and specific thematic purpose... I don't know about you, but I couldn't even dream the sounds Vindsval creates and commits to the cosmos.

    Caïna – Hands that Pluck. 7/10 (70%)

    Caïna is a band whose musical journey has been totally inspiring from start to finish (to those who’ve cared to drop the keyboard warrior pretense). Andy Curtis-Bignel is the mind and hands at work behind the enigmatic project and is one of the first composers guilty of mixing post-rock and black metal. The difference between Caïna and a lot of bands who mix these genres is that Caïna doesn’t necessarily blend the sounds together. Caïna jumps from lush harmonious build ups, to raw punkish blackened grinding, to electronic beeps and boops and all the way back to stripped down folk. All of the ground covered still somehow retains a unique flavour known only to Caïna.

    Hands That Pluck is a raw and powerful album. It is not easy on the ear. It is clearly fuelled by anger which channelled by intelligent song writing, becomes more than the venting of angst and transcends into something far darker and philosophical. What exactly that is, I haven’t quite discovered yet.

    The last track on the album is my personal favourite. It seems to me like Andy is waving goodbye to his fans with one hand and sticking his middle finger up at all the haters with his other. It’s a clever tune.

    Which is part of the point here - A great band put to rest by its creator. The swan song being; a totally malevolent departure from the subtle and beautiful works of the past. It’s sad to me, but hopefully in dissembling Caïna, Andy can find his peace as an artist and begin contributing to a creative vision which doesn’t cause him so much conflict.

    Clair Cassis - Luxury Absolute. 8/10 (80%)

    I'd go as far as saying this is the best Clair Cassis yet. Clair Cassis is the band Josh decided to do after he announced the fall of Velvet Cacoon, one of the most influential of the American black metal bands. The attitude here seems to be - cut the shit, we're not making black metal in underwater caves with imaginary instruments anymore (although the fantasy of VC's claims were what made them so atmospheric to me, true or not, it was easy to visualise with their alien nautical sounds) We're going to write good riffs without over thinking it, organic flow of creativity, gratifying, and without second guessing or questioning. It's a very true and honest representation of where these composers are creatively.

    So what strikes me most is really emotive thick sounding guitar riffs backed up with some chilling acoustic work which you can only truly appreciated if you listen to it in a quiet environment as they're mixed... well... quietly, even though they're captured beautifully.

    The drum sound is bigger too. A brave move for a black metal band that's always had a weak frail rhythm, which to me was like a heartbeat struggling and skipping essential beats (that's morbid I know, but probably intentional).

    I think this album lives up to some musical claims they made about VC's 'Genevieve' with somnambulant samples & under watery guitar tones that act as a positively delicious aural massage. It's like pickling your brain in aged wine, walking bare foot in wet sand (Can you smell the wet sand? because I can, it's scary), hail storms in vast fields... a coppery brass like taste in the mouth. Initiating every sense is cleverly contemplated by Josh (et al) in these compositions (No really, it's psycho acoustics, Schema and Schemata... aural/neural linguistic processing and yes, that's science... they have made claims to genuinely get involved in this but granted, claims that lead to the days they lived a life of pure drug induced fiction), which is why this "atmosphere" is so very very special.

    It would easily be a 9.5/10 if there was a little more on offer here. It is just an EP after all, but they could have stretched the material out to album length and it would've been a far greater experience. Isn't it rare to hear that tracks should've gone on for longer in Black Metal?

    Cold Body Radiation – Deer Twillight. 9/10 (95%)

    Cold Body Radiation is a Black Metal project from the Netherlands which bleeds emotion through despairing dreamy melodies and orchestrates itself around deep compressed bass, 80’s sounding synths and searing distorted guitars. Unlike previous release The Great White Emptiness, Deer Twillight also visits clean vocal territory. Making use of build-ups a must, and employing slightly more loud to quiet structures, this music deserves and demands a degree of attention, unlike this mysterious musician’s other project An Autumn For Crippled Children, which bites you immediately and takes very little effort to absorb.

    Not that this beast takes effort as such, I just think there is a lot of subtle stuff going on in the saturated swirling debris of cosmic reverbs meaning repeated listens are increasingly rewarding, which leads me to mention the production. It is completely lush and near as perfect as a blackgaze production could get for me. I sort of wish ‘The Great White Emptiness’ had been as well balanced, as I found the production on that album over compressed and it wrecked my ears, even on a slightly lower volume than I’d usually crank (despite that the songs on The Great White Emptiness were absolute epiphanies of blindingly epic physical drama!).

    Every track here is as strong as if not stronger than anything this composer has created before, with the fourth track ‘Shimmer’ being the shining jewel in the CBR and AAFCC discographies. Like Sleeping Peonies with Added Mono and clean vocal patterns that just decimate me. Sat listening to it now actually, and every breath I take I can feel my lungs ache with an emotion bottling up with a final destination in my throat which now hurts when I swallow.

    Perhaps the last Blackgaze release for 2011, and certainly an awesome way to punctuate a year where this genre has flowered above and beyond early comprehension - with an offering from Sleeping Peonies setting the bar impossibly high for the genre, followed by Sun Devoured Earth, Heretoir, An Autumn For Crippled Children, Alrakis, Lantlos and now this - the subgenre still feels a little bit like our dirty secret, and although the sound has been championed and explored to its higher extents, I can still envision further discovery, more atmospheres and more harrowing story telling for 2012 – I still think this movement is largely underground, and will at some point explode. I just hope it’s one of the aforementioned bands that does it.

    Dead to a Dying World - Dead to a Dying World. 8/10 (76%)

    On paper this band sounds really up my street, and after a few listens, I really have a lot of positivity on the subject. Basically, DtaDW are an ensemble from Texas who use the usual big instrument set to do post metal, but with added cello and double bass, giving a sort of C20th bizarreness in places and a chamber music dimension in others.

    The album is made up of three long songs. In the first song the band present themselves as having a quiet/loud slow build set up, but it's not till I realise that the heavy sections are actually quite technical and in fact, sound more like Weakling-style Black Metal than just a big post-metal riff around the same motifs as the build ups. I suppose I was expecting something similar to 'Year of No Light' or 'Fall of Efrafa' in that sense.

    The only problem is there's a massive distinction between this band when they're doing something subtle and when they're doing something heavy. It's almost as if half the band compose the quiet stuff and half the band the loud stuff, which is a bit of a shame as I'd like to hear the odd instruments implemented more into the heavily guitar driven loud sections.

    When these guys are full throttle, it also bares comparison to my favourite German doomed out post-metallers 'Omega Massif'. I suppose this is starting to sound quite tasty ey? Well it is, even if it lacks a certain sophistication held by the four bands I've already mentioned in comparison.

    This is a light bite of extremely heavy stuff... instantly appreciable, but probably best experienced in the live environment for its massiveness. If I hadn't spent the weekend listening to Ulver, Blut Aus Nord and Primordial, I'd probably have had a violent reaction to the awesomeness on display here, which will have involved me spamming facebook with "Listentothisherebandit'sanacebandyessss?" but unfortunately, the aforementioned bigger bands weakened the impact for me. Curse you Prut Aus Ulvnordial!

    Deaf Center - Owl Splinters 8/10 (83%)

    This Norwegian duo makes ambient, moody, minimalist contemporary classical drone... I think. A fascinating look in to a dark, but calm world. One clichéd way I'd describe this is if 'Agaetis Byrjun' era Sigur Ros and Yann Tiersen got caught in a trans-dimensional vortex which took them to a parallel world, except all the living things that make them happy are either dead or in the process of being made dead through torture, and everything that they draw inspiration from has become an angry fearful entity... Glaciers littered with the carcasses of dead soldiers and extinct species of mammal... Aurora Borealis that gives you skin cancer.

    A dusty and roomy piano is the main point of interest for these compositions. Beautiful and poignant melodies and passages communicate a scenario, and in most instances this beauty sadly bleeds out into a despairing ambience made up of various harmonics and tones. Occasionally, the tension piles up and the piano bleeds back into the ambience.

    This music is perfect if you need a downer but you want to keep an element of control as your mood is brought into a stable condition. It's probably some of the most relaxing music I've ever heard, which makes me wonder what technology is taking place behind the ambience. It's a really full and lush production which cocoons my head, and lulls me into a drooling trance.

    There are no vocals to speak of and because the music is so minimalist, it definitely adapts itself around whatever the listener is doing at the time and becomes a sort of personal soundtrack. This is because it is at no point invasive or offering anything which isn't vastly open to interpretation.

    Sunn0))) would be another fair comparison. They clearly share a similar objective of forcing the listener into introverted dark perspectives, ultimately creating a very alien experience through a journey into your own subconscious fears and sadness’s.

    Of all the fantastic releases I've heard this year, this is one I sort of feel in my bones, that I'll be returning to a year, two years, ten years from now and it's going to grow to become something very special to me.

    Deafheaven - Roads to Judah. 9/10 (88%)

    Where did these guys come from? A better question might be; where are they going? The answer, they're going to be fucking huge and popular, and for now, they're popular with us kvlt bastards (more or less) but not for long as this is what's going to take the horrible phrase 'hipster black metal' straight to the door of all the kids who are quite happy to be spoon fed watered down crap by mainstream metal magazines and moozik video channelziz... But that does not detract from the fact that this is so fucking good it hurts.

    Epic epic chord progressions played blurringly over savage muscular blasting. Beautiful, sad melodies more akin to post-metal than black metal saw over the essentially black metal body of the song. Vocals that are screamed and grim and exist aurally somewhere between WitTR and the fathers of this brand of black metal; Weakling.

    Slightly watered down? Well no doubt a big divider of the kvlt hordes... but who really gives a shit about that now? I've already given that too much attention. It's a damn fine album that makes their demo look weak, but only in comparison as before hearing the album the demo was a sturdy little release!

    Very strong contender for a top ten list. If there's more to come from bands of a similar ilk, this is going to be a very good year.

    Disma – Towards the Megalith 9/10 (87%)

    Towards the Megalith is the heaviest thing I’ve heard this year/in ages/possibly ever. Of course, how we perceive heaviness is somewhat subjective. I personally consider the two heaviest releases I’ve heard to be Pentecost III by Anathema and Shadow’s of the Sun by Ulver, for my very own personal reasons (the first, because it is heavy, the second because it’s suffocatingly sad/emotionally moving and therefore, heavy). To some, Job For a Cowboy, Annotations of an Autopsy, Trigger the Bloodshed, All Shall Perish, Waking the Cadaver, Cattle Decapitation, The Acacia Strain, Oceano, Born of Osiris and Emmure are the embodiment of ‘heavy’, and are totally where it’s at when it comes to pushing the envelope and making you want to dress and move in questionable and dubious ways (granted some of the bands in that list a pure tripe and some are fucking excellent, so bare with me).

    The thing these heavy new bands have in common? Technology! (and lots of it). From triggered kicks, to triggered toms, to triple tracking already down-tuned guitars going through thousands of pounds/dollars worth of line6 gear before the guitar tone even touches ‘the air’ to click tracks which then quantise everything before going through 15 compressors etcetcetc. These bands clearly use these wonderfully new production techniques to make albums that sound huge and pristine.

    The question really should be, if you can fucking play and you have a real sonic point to prove that you honed in the real world/the practice room, you should just need a couple of decent microphones and a analogue tape deck. Right? Back to actually reviewing Disma now: Disma prove that is completely right. They lay waste in the heaviness debate with a totally organic recording that chugs as hard as it blasts. The speed is based on pure feel, and the tone is compelling and amp driven. This sort of heaviness is more aligned with Thorr’s Hammer but the osdm touch is all over this entity.

    The band play death-doom in the truest sense of the word, but their doom is vital sounding to the point where the riffs border on the ‘slam’ style of breakdown. It’s just – a bit- too – slow – to – be – of – that – genre. The death metal is really crusty and punky, which would usually be lost on me, but there’s something about the sheer size of this band’s sound that just makes me adore even the elements which aren’t totally aligned with my taste. There is absolutely nothing progressive about this, but instead they wield the retrospective stance as if it were a similar approach. For that very reason, I declare this album is fucking shit hot, and anyone who isn’t listening to it, is probably a bit of a pussy. SEE! I don’t talk like that at all now do I? Disma have influenced me. What more can I say? Enjoy this thing as much as I do and suddenly feel a slightly bitter taste in your mouth when you recognise what the majority of dm is becoming.

    Dornenreich - Flammentriebe 9/10 (89%)

    This is an absolute powerhouse of an album. Germanique long standers on the glorious Prophecy Productions label. The band offer up black metal that feels intricately woven with our ancestry, but not in a cheesy 'swords and sandals' way, more the presentation Primordial offer. What hit me first is the unique vocals, growled and chanted in German. Rolling 'R's and spitting 'P's... So much conviction. Wish I understood the lyrics, as from all accounts they're really good. It's not massively original, but for me it's great to hear something tried and tested done so well that it pricks my ears up.

    The Violinist isn't exactly a Virtuoso, but the rough around the edges bits really help Dornenreich's over all cause, in so far as I can hear he has a bit of gypsy in his tone and style, which is a more favourable sound to black metal than a classically trained violinist's offering would be.

    Every song is unique, with a great dynamic and progressive structure and as a result, the album doesn't drag on at all (unlike this review, yawn). The musical pallet from which they paint is clearly varied and colourful, with all guns blazing moments of epic violence to harmonious acoustic passages. It's all superlative. The great mix on the album means nothing is left to the imagination... every instrument has its place, but there's enough bleed into each others' frequencies and space for the occasional wall of sound effect. And I must say not only are the riffs highly memorable and mesmerising, they're played with a belter of a tone!

    Falloch – Where Distant Spirits Remain 9/10 (91%)

    Falloch are a two piece melodic metal band with slight leanings towards modern/post black metal as well as rock and folk elements. Their sound is a balance so harmonious it is humbling to behold and this album couldn’t have landed at a better time.

    A demo appeared earlier in the year and in an instant big name labels in the avant-garde and black metal scene were offering Falloch a contract. They are one of those bands where you can listen to any single 30 second block on the album and you can just tell this music will travel and sell. It just displays a compositional quality of the very highest order.

    The guitar work largely reminds me of Les Discrets in its epic, morose but very melodic feel. There’s some leads provided which have the same superlative emotional exuberance as Insomnium. The drums are most often swinging away in 6/4 but occasionally we’re cleansed by epic blasts over drawn and progressive chord progressions. These moments are provincially some of my favourite parts of music this year.

    Where We Believe is easily my favourite song here and if I had to do a top 5 songs this year, it’d certainly be way up there. From the epic intro with a melodeath feel to a huge spacey chorus which feels similarly anthemic to Type O Negative’s big moments and then in the latter half of the song an awe inspiring match of uplifting riffs with furious blast beats in an absolute dervish of elemental violence leaves me completely weak at the knees.

    The vocals have been a point of discussion for a lot of people. They’re very clean for the most part, quite dramatic and emotional. The voice is honest and brave but the singer can hit notes in quite complex vocal melodies no problem. The tone of his voice seems to have left something to be desired for a lot of people but once again I love it. It’s very similar to Agalloch and brings another dimension to music which might not have been hugely original, if only for being executed at a higher level of understanding and intensity.

    Fen - Epoch 7/10 (66%)

    Fen are one of the leading bands for modern UKBM (please excuse me using that abbreviation, I'm not sure it amounts to anything, the bands in this 'movement' aren't really related, nor are they aurally similar, there's just a few good ones out there now so someone needed a term to ring-fence them, and yes, they share this pokey island) and with good reason. Their influences sit proudly on their sleeve and what they do they do well. Epoch doesn't perhaps raise the bar for this nations black metal output, but it's definitely a solid contribution.

    I don't like making comparisons unless a band sort of invites it and here I feel there is an invitation to mention Agalloch and Alcest in so far as the melodies often sound happy or sort of hopeful. I think the intent is to sound more malicious, but the compositions seem to find themselves naturally falling into some major scale progressions.

    Their previous and first album, The Malediction Fields, is an album I've returned to time and time again, mainly because I never fully got my ear around it. It has an obscure atmosphere and a ferocity that swells from a very tonal leaning.

    Epoch isn't that different really. Although on first listen I enjoyed it a lot more, and subsequent listens have been increasingly rewarding. There's still sections where the synths sound clashy with the guitars and everything is piling up a little chaotically. Also the happy sound to some of the riffs distracts my ear a little, especially when the vocal delivery is bile filled and fueled with anger.

    However, strange and wavering clean sounds cast a veil over blackened riffage making a 'listening to emperor while watching Twin Peaks' vibe. There's more middle ground covered here than on the previous effort, something between the all out paganistic anger and folky/experimental passages.

    The vocals go through lots of transformations. Mainly, a focus on a hoarse rasp, but occasionally we're treated to some clean singing and lower growls which sound superb.

    There's a deeper well for inspiration here than just extreme metal and it's perhaps more rewarding to listen around the abrasive elements. But for now, I'm finding this slightly easier to digest than the first album and I'm happy to recommend it to anyone trying to build a catalogue of standout metal releases this year.

    Grails – Deep Politics. 7/10 (75%)

    Grails are a collective of musicians whose main agenda seems to be to create the most unrestrained yet relatable music possible. The songs are completely instrumental and feature all the usual instruments, but for what I hear each member of the band is multi-disciplined and so to be as varied as possible, seem to swap duties around, and utilise everyone in the band in the writing process to add lots of different flavours to the whole.

    Deep politics is a largely morose journey and to me feels like an introspective exploration. The music draws on odd conventions to depict drama and aid the story telling aspects to the music. In the first track, there’s some nods to Ennio Morricone’s work with Sergio Leone, the music builds into a plosive moment which sparkles with western character.

    Then the deeply maudlin movement of ‘Deep Politics’ draws more on pure melody driven piano and yields the same hair raising result as a truly successful post-rock track.

    The amount of variation doesn’t detract from the album having a recognisable back bone holding the experimentation together. I can’t quite place where this comes from as it’s not a motif or specific voice (as said, the voices change as the musicians behind the instruments change), but from the start to the very end, nothing startles me as being out of place, in spite of the fact that the album covers so many social musical perspectives. All I can think is that each genre utilised is done so because its conventions are able to elicit a distinct mood, which to me is a sort of an optimistic view on a hopeless situation; a mundane drama, with an underlying sense of anxiety and intensity.

    Helheim – Heiðindómr ok Mótgangr. 8/10 (83%)

    Helheim is a black metal band from Norway (Bergen) which truly understands there is no limit to the word epic. At times I want to call this modern black metal, but the occasional Fintroll style folk section makes me second guess this labelling. ‘HoM’ is certainly 2011’s answer to Agrypnie’s ‘16(485)’, which was last year’s very most epic release. The vocal style is similar, as well as the superb production. But the riffs still drip with a foggy gloom and the drums roll and blast and drive the ceremonious dark music into despairing and confrontational depths.

    Namely it’s the blazing guitar work which causes this music to sore higher than your average folk inspired black metal. Crying out solo’s which rip and tear through the air and actually complement the songs in the same way Jeff Loomis’ Nevermore solos do. The problem these days with guitar solos is that 9/10 of them are only in there because it’s conventional, and a lot of guitarists don’t seem adept enough to choose the right melodic vocabulary to convey a mood or musically embellish on a story or scene. The guitarists might be clinicians with awesome levels of skill, but their ‘widdle’ says nothing more than “I know how to handle an axe”. Helheim are a massive exception to this, and as a result, really standout, not just in the sense that a lot of black metal bands wouldn’t use solo’s, as the progressive nature of them can detract from the hypnotic devices with in the genre, but also because clearly the guitarist is a master storyteller.

    Lots of interesting instruments make their way into the mix here too. Big brass sounds, lots of clunky folk stringed instruments and plenty of big percussion paints the archaic picture from which Helheim seem to operate within.

    Four of the tracks are named Viten og Mot (which translates as ‘Knowledge and Courage’) and followed by a word in brackets (sindighet, stolhet, arvakenhet and bevissthet) which describe an extension of the other two virtues. Funnilly enough, these four tracks are the absolute standouts on the album for me. The opener (Slindighet) just pulsates energy and power through the latter half of the song. Mid album we’re treat to (Arvakenhet) which similarly explodes in its second half. The first half is pure ‘I am the Black Wizards’ homage.

    I love this album and the way it makes me feel, but I feel I can’t justify giving it a really high score based on the fact that they execute ‘epic’ perfectly. I sort of feel this lacks something to take it from, just an absolutely great modern metal album to a genuine masterpiece (which all of my 85% > albums are to me). My problem really is that the album isn’t very challenging at all, and the immediate sensation this album gives is pure endearment and ecstasy, and anyone into metal with high-production values must must must hear this immediately. It will kick the shit out of you. I personally love to have to struggle to come to terms with the music, or to heighten my understanding of music to appreciate the output, which for this I plain and simple didn’t have to do.

    Heretoir - Heretoir 8/10 (78%)

    This self titled album is a tasty slab of emotional music, cleverly designed over its longevity to take you on a very expressive journey. And I'm always more than happy to hear bands that openly associate their sound with Lantlos and Amesoeurs. That sound being a less elemental black metal, and more urban. I find it so fantastic that the dark aural energies that make black metal what it is can be wielded to paint a city in decay. It's a chilling atmosphere when delivered as well as Heretoir deliver it. It makes you wonder what other areas are yet to be explored through this unlikely and alienating sonic identity.

    Melodically, this is more aligned with shoe gaze-y black metal or as some people who like to use words as like a macro umbrella-ing term might say now and then to tag it in their scrobblers and YouTube, 'Black Gaze'. Gazing at the Black!!! How literally dark and all encompassing!

    No, once again, the marriage of build-ups, epic & dream-like melodies and emotional tension with the harshness of black metal, is something I like a lot. It is right up my alley.

    The album really starts to kick in at the fifth track for me. The drums do some awesome kick patterns which remind me of the things I like about Dimmu Borgir. Just remember to turn it up... it's mastered quite quietly... I wish I could find more words to say on this album because I've had it on repeat for over a week now and the melodies have gotten quite ingrained in me.

    Hexvessel – Dawnbearer 10/10 (97%)

    Sometimes you hear an album for the first time and just know instantly that the music contained within is going to stay with you for the rest of your life. Dawnbearer is one of those albums. Short punchy songs, laden with a sincere spirituality and all the sinister charms of the occult, dance in the air around me, psychedelic expression played on an ensemble of acoustic instruments and sang in one of the most honest and chilling voices I’ve ever heard. The production rejoices every detail of those finely plucked strings. As well as the rich and vibrant harmonics resonating perfectly, every creak, squeak and shuffle is also captured in the ambient detail of the recordings.

    The mood this album creates is both evocative and meditative - you can forget about time and imagine you’ve been lost in the woods for days. You can even feel a sense of impairment to your reality as if on certain mood altering substances. Or perhaps that’s just the influence of how impaired these shaman’s collective reality must’ve been when they wrote this stuff? Although I have my doubts that experimentation with drugs played a huge part in this creation. Even though the creativity here seems transcendental, like a sober mind wouldn’t be capable of conjuring the images these songs create, some degree of control must’ve been implemented for the songs to be so perfectly structured and crafted. There’s a profound understanding of genuinely excellent song writing going on. Unless this is the rare case that someone completely retains all their talent while extremely high after crawling into a badger den with a ukulele and vowing not to leave until the album is written.

    The psychedelia comes from the lyrcial subject matter and the ‘world music’ timbre, but sometimes the music leans from folk to more contemporary genres like indie and rock, all the while retaining a deep sense of connectivity to nature, folklore, heritage and the beyond. I had thought this music was going to be quite ambient, abstract and full of subtle build-ups, but it has more in common with fellow Fins ‘Tenhi’ than anything else in the almost filmic orchestrations and rich arresting progressions.

    And another reason I feel deeply for this album is that the bands main composer, Mat McNerney (known to many as Kvohst) is an Englishmen. He used to do vocals in black metal intercontinental super group Code. Surely it’s every musicians dream to one day up-sticks and move to Finland, form an allegiance with various folk and experimental prog musicians along the way and in a perfect blend of sounds and themes, create a project that’s strong enough to form a living off.

    See how this album appeals to you and listen to the monolithic duet with Czral ‘The Tunnel at the End of Light’ or the quirky ‘Diamonds’. I would happily recommend these songs to my grandma aswell as the swamp-dwelling, creature of the night grim types, it really is that diverse.

    Khuda – Iecava. 9/10 (92%)

    Khuda is a two headed riff and rhythm calculator that has four arms and four legs. Somehow it makes music that sounds like an army made up of the members of the bands Lite/Isis/Don Cabalero/Neurosis/Mono/Irepress/Russian Circles, in spite of having so few limbs.

    Non-cryptically, the band is a two piece. A drummer called Steve (with thick’n’heavy sticks). A guitarist called Tom (with shoes and lots and lots of pedals). I’ve seen Khuda play live countless times, and what I have always felt is that they would struggle to capture the sheer immensity of what they do on stage in an album. When I say what they do on stage, I mean the guitarist literally has 12 cones of raw power in a rig that touches the ceiling in most venues. The rig is usually placed directly behind the drummer, who wears industrial ear muffs. The guitarist then uses a massive range of tones (both amp and pedal driven) to create diverse and interwoven musical landscapes and riffs (when I say riffs, I’m talking huge emotional and despairing post-rock and metal riffs (I already name dropped some sort of similar-ish)). Even when gently plucking his clean vintage tone, you can feel each note like a kick in the forehead. Oh, and did I mention the guitarist has mastered the loop/delay pedal to such a degree that he bases most of the compositions around it? This means his strangely endearing hypnotic melodies and motifs can build from minimalistic little phrases to walls of utterly devastating and dense rhythmic agro. Their live sets are such an involving experience that it borders on the spiritual!

    What Iecava provides: a transmission where Khuda’s heaviness and subtlety alike are captured brilliantly to represent the compositions. The feel is still live, but sound wise, the different guitar voices have their own place in the mix, in the sense that the heavy sections don’t sound like they’re coming from the same sound source as the quiet sections, meaning Khuda have overcome what I perceived could be a flaw in capturing their material. The most plausible way to record Khuda has given us a multi-layered sound that doesn’t come across as one person messing with delays – It really is as if a musical collective is at work in the control room.

    The drummer uses various approaches to accompany the technical and progressive music. No easy job you’d think as there’s lots of odd time signature and tempo changes, aswell as having to play to loop recordings, i.e. no slip ups or it’ll all go to hell. But somehow the skill set the drummer applies sounds very natural and almost tribal in the push and flow that is used. Because the snare sound is really open, instantly I hear a samba background, but listening more closely the aggression of a rock musician is there in abundance. It’s all tied together with a really jazzy articulation on the cymbals. It is clearly important to this drummer that he exhibits a unique approach while also respecting the material and paying close attention to what the music requires for completion. The end result is just fucking electric!

    Khuda tour relentlessly and have had the opportunity to support some of the more highly regarded bands in the avant-garde rock and post-rock/metal genres. For this reason, you’ll probably get a chance to witness Iecava live and loud. Do not fail yourself if Khuda are in your town, state, county, province, country or land mass in general. Chances are, if they are playing on your land mass, you’ll be able to hear them playing anyway... That was another ‘they play really fucking loud’ joke.

    Krallice – Diotima 9/10 (93%)

    I’ve been following Krallice for a while and saw no room for improvement in their previous two full lengths which hold a dear place in my music collection. This sentiment changed when I heard Diotima, which is a perfect execution of the sprawling mathematical, tremolo-picked malevolence making up Krallice’s unique sound.

    The music writhes as if it’s alive with fast and energetic directives, yet the twin guitar melodies duel and take sporadic twists and turns, occasionally shrugging off the conventional metrics, and the drums are left to tumble into fills which roll unpredictably until the riffs find solid ground again. The only people counting along to this music (and getting it right) are the members of the band who know the secrets behind this serpentine aural mass.

    For me, this is absolute brain food. The scales used are avant-garde and follow no obvious musical rules (that I’m familiar with at least), but then there is a harmonic vocabulary Krallice dwell within that stops the music from becoming too chaotic. It’s incredibly self-referential in that sense, but all true avant-garde should be! It’s easy to be random or chromatic, but sometimes I hear a sort of resolving motif which reminds me of music for film and specifically the horror genre which I truly believe shows a level of craft has gone into the spectrum of sounds Krallice allow themselves to wield.

    The vocals have gone from being quite hardcore sounding yelps and shouts, to massive low death-doom growls! Something I did not expect but I welcome whole heartedly. This couples a general step up in the production values and, somehow, an even more ferocious element to the song writing.

    This album is extremely long, and whether it’s just my perceptions or this was intentional, it feels like the whole thing gets steadily more and more abrasive, with harsher production towards the end, faster drumming and more discordance in the later tracks. My experience was, beginning the album, I’m stood in the opening of a dark cave... as the album progresses, the cave walls get narrower, the ground wetter, what dim light was fades into darkness and the gradient of the ground sinks till eventually you’re struggling to keep your footing on a near vertical slope with seemingly no end. I believe many bands strive to gain this affect, often in a song or over a couple of songs on an album, but rare is it in my experience executed to the same degree Krallice have achieved, especially over the longevity of such an absolutely massive musical journey.

    Loss – Despond 6/10 (64%)

    By no means a nill effort... this is an ambitious multi-faced titan of the doom genre, covering the crying emotional melo-doom of bands like swallow the sun, more riffy doom like Centurions Ghost, doom with clean vocals like Warning, post-doom that has clinky clean bits like Neurosis, Omega Massif or Year of No Light and doom that shakes your boots, like... well, loads of those bass heavy doom bands (shall we go with Khanate?)... Like Khanate.

    It has a character of its own which it gains through an amalgamation of these various forms of doom. The problem is, unlike a lot of the bands I’ve mentioned, they don’t own their sound at all. At any moment in the album, if you were asked who the band was, after 5 seconds you’d be able to make an approximate guess, but you’d be wrong.

    The other thing, the vocals, for a large part of the album, are just whispered (when I say whispered I mean they are not projected loudly at all – the type of vocals people who don’t know how to do metal vocals do in the shower and think they’re Mikael Akerfeldt) into a microphone with the gain cranked and the compression maxed, and because I can tell that’s how they’ve gained the effect, I find myself cringing. I need doom vocalists to be loud as hell, almost able to scream as loud as their backline... not whispering hoarsely and then using the studio to turn it into some kind of faux-gutterals.

    Nasty mean horrible stuff out of the way, this album is cloaked in misery. Musically we’re presented with riffs that sound literally suicidal. The drums sound huge. There’s an atmosphere caught here that is very unique and despairing. The songs are cleverly structured, and as an album there’s a great sense of continuity and flow. I would not be surprised in the slightest if some people saw this album as an absolutely genre defining triumph and I feel bad that the diversity on display here translates in my ears as a lack of focus/identity

    Luup – Meadow Rituals. 8/10 (84%)

    Luup is a neo-classical/folk project by Greek flautist Stelios Romaliadis. When I first heard about the project I honestly expected multi-layered flute playing and basically, experimental studio techniques exploring woodwind sounds. This does have experimental touches, but not to the degree I’d expected. This doesn’t hide behind pretension and minimalism, but instead traverses in to conventional depths of musical motion. It’s a lush full and emotional journey which makes use of a plethora of timbres.

    Every track has it’s own flavour, sometimes we’re given sparse bowed build-ups, other times we’re roughed along by rock drums and female vocals giving a direct message to music that’s ripe to bursting with meaning.

    Highly recommended if you’re into Sibelius or any nature inspired ensembles.

    Mitochondrion - Parasignosis 9/10 (93%)

    Right, as you might be able to tell from the Ulcerate Review... death metal isn't my area of expertise. It's something I listened to alot when I was 14, 15, 16... but I grew steadily detached from it (as my hormones returned to a more normal level and I didn't need what I'd now describe as a 'sonic testosterone sponge' anymore).

    Oh but Mitochondrion are so much more. I could tell from the bands name that they were going to be hell-ish, gurgling, tormented, free-flowing, jazzed-up, doom, avant-garde death metal. Well, I sort of had a feeling...

    This is sick sick stuff. I say sick twice, because I mean it! It's psyche-tormenting & bewildering... physical & visceral... morbid & trans-dimensional. There are so many layers and unique elements and ideas... and none of them... not one of them... sounds human by design.

    So, JUST listen and tremble... turn it up and close your eyes and feel transformed. At their best, Mitochondrion offer thick walls of feedback which rain over churning guitar chords with drums playing marches and rolls that move around like an army of otherworldly warriors whose only focus is to dismember anything they find, without a shred of remorse or emotion. As a listener, you're hiding in the shrubbery and you can only hear them approaching...

    Melodically, this has the same dissonant almost microtonallity as Blut Aus Nord. Structurally, there's no explanation or rhyme or reason but its safe to say expect the unexpected with the odd brutal pay off... individual parts of the tracks show a huge range of conventions... the doom elements are like Bloody Panda, But with added Lovecraft... And the death metal is like Portal... but with added Lovecraft.

    I haven't heard too much of a buzz about Mitochondrion yet, but I am thinking this album will be one of those 'top of the decade' types for alot of people. I can't deny, even for someone who has long since tired of death metal, it is an extremely monumental and fucking spectacular piece of music.

    Natural Snow Buildings - Waves of the Random Sea 9/10 (92%)

    It's hard to believe that the lush orchestral textures making up the bed for the occasional burst of experimental, percussive, psychedlic folk is the product of just two musicians. One man. One Woman. Both French... lots and lots of happy and absorbing sound.

    I'm not even going to start speculating 'how' they do this... but it feels almost 'live' and spontaneous in sections, so they must have some kind of many armed 'Kali' like arrangement going on (or delay pedals/loop stations). Anyway, forget about the fact that it's just two people for now, because it's leaving me so very flummoxed that I'm forgetting to talk about the actual creation here...

    Natural Snow Buildings create lush, soft and tuneful ambient textures which stretch on indefinitely, droning out immensely communicative clouds of sound which almost fool me into falling forward in the faith that I'll land in this cloud and be carried out to some place far more glorious than this one. However I know, I know... this is music, and if I did that I'd be listening to these fluffy textured delights with a bloodied nose and gravel in my mouth.

    The texture is made up, mainly, of pad like sounds emmulated through bowing cymbals, guitars and a sort of choral humming vocal... You know the instrument set I mean? Well no, you won't until you listen to this. Occasionally the lovely chords turn quite dissonant and it becomes a pretty dark and scary experience too. And then occasionally we're treat to found sounds, wind and water and trees and rocks falling... Whether or not these sounds are actually in the mix or once again I'm being tricked, is totally subjective and probably to do with associative sounds and aural schemas.

    Ok, but the clever part is, within these textures, slowly, songs construct themselves until you realise you're actually now bouncing along merilly to a plucked string instrument with eastern vibes backed up with multi-layered gamelan like percussion... or lo-fi folk warblings from the female in the group, over fairly standard (but excellent) folk guitar work. I'm closer to saying this is paying larger homage to contemporary world music in general, rather than just 'folk'.

    Each song here is a work of pensive genius and the listening experience is both intense and peaceful. I'm extremely inspired by this music, not just as a musician myself, but as a person with a reasonable level of emotional intelligence. I hope many people open their ears to what's going on here as talented doesn't even begin to describe the multi-instrumental abilities these individuals have.

    Nightbringer – Hierophany of the Open Grave. 9/10 (91%)

    Nightbringer are a modern black metal band from the US. They apply masterful technique and ferocity to malevolent grinding avant-garde melodies, which clash and dual in natures harmonic arena.

    The sound is so evil, it has the potential to conjure fires deep within the soul – as galvanising an experience as Deathspell Omega at their very best. My mind races when I listen to tracks such as ‘The Gnosis of Inhumation’, the pace is lowered slightly but the tone is still thick and the riffs have a sort of long-in-tooth daemonic fear inducing craft to them.

    This and Aosoth III bare alot of similarities to me. Both unrelenting and extreme in new measures of intelligence and superlative understanding of the voices they wield.

    It’s not just discordance; it’s a sort of clever use of minor scales mixed in with quite threatening almost death metal like timbres. Hugely recommended!

    Omega Massif – Karpatia. 10/10 (97%)

    Massive, cold, bludgeoning instrumental post metal which if I had to sum up in one phrase would be: This is music to die of exposure to. Omega Massif have bettered their first album ‘Geisterstadt’ with ‘Karpatia’. No easy feat, nor does it sound quite right for me to say when, since it's release, ‘Geisterstadt’ has sat firmly in my top ten albums of all time.

    Omega Massif steer the listener through rugged and cold terrain with mountain sized riffs and a guitar tone that could literally shake the earth! This sort of thing is said often to compliment a bands 'heaviness', but I implore you, before reading any further, just go sample something by them! The best way to enjoy this album is as loud as you can bare it, without distraction.

    'Karpatia' opens with a rumbling tribal build-up which blatantly winks at a huge section in the latter half of 'Unter Null' (one of the more concise tracks on 'Geisterstadt'). I found this detail really endearing as a fan of the older material. Other than this one moment where an idea is intentionally recycled, 'Karpatia' takes the sound on 'Geisterstadt' and explodes it to fresh heights of heaviness beyond my most daring comprehension.

    The first two tracks are quite high in pace for a band who pride themselves on being down-tempo ('we wouldn't play faster if we could' being an old motto). A lot of ideas are explored in quite a short time frame which I find extremely refreshing (especially when post-metal and doom can often use laborious build-ups, demanding a patient ear). If 'Geisterstadt' was climbing a lofty peak, the first two tracks on 'Karpatia' are a manic tumble back down to sea level.

    My first impression is that the rest of the album returns to make another epic ascension, up and beyond, broken limbs and all, till eventually suspended at an unthinkable altitude by the albums title track 'Karpatia', which is a dark and ambient masterpiece!

    No words or vocals could do the atmosphere and heaviness here justice… To be honest, there isn't room in the crushing mix either way, but the 'wordless' element to the music means this offering can wrap itself around whatever the listener deems to be epic, monolithic and/or impeding and thus opens a unique interaction with us, giving us creative control to picture our own unguided visions of a tragic or empowering narrative.

    One of my favourite things about Omega Massif's sound is the use of E-bow and delay… When guitarst and composer Andreas Schmittfull uses this glistening and glacial effect, it sends glass shatteringly powerful vibrations through the skin, causing teeth to clench, eyes to water and certain dangling appendages to retract out of fear for their safety. He usually times this approach to playing over a massive riff, so when he drops back into normal strumming with his dry tone, the damage it causes is noticeable!

    ‘Im Karst’ is the highlight of the album for me. The first half; desolate doom which evolves into some vast spatial and minimal dirges just held together by the drums, some of the chords here have a more positive sound. We're then treat to a step-up in the pace with a big post-rock-esque swirling build which lends itself to unleash a faster upbeat riff. This then refrains briefly to return over a huge half time rhythm. A Dissolve takes place into pure apocalyptic unexplored crevasse worship, taking the form of a chugging riff which breaks some of the scuzz and feels more punctuated and perpetual. The outro is just a phenominal wall of noise and clatter, involving just about everything Omega Massif do well and more!

    These are riffs to live for and ultimately, music to die to! All that’s inbetween is the time not spent listening to Omega Massif, and thus not being enriched, inspired and crushed in equal measure. I think this review goes some way towards justifying my utter adoration for this band. Now all that's left is for you too to tackle the brutal ascension and face your own 'Everests' with Karpatia as your sonic medium!

    Petrychor – Effigies and Epitaphs. 74% (7/10)

    I will state straight away that I wish I could have the same level of enthusiasm for this project as everyone else, as it is very clear from the buzz in the underground that Petrychor, a one man experimental/world music/black metal project from the US has blown away many fans of intelligent music and has been tipped by many to be album of the year. On this basis, everyone should check the album out regardless of what I have to say (which is by no means bad, it’s just not as enthused as everyone else).

    Petrychor meld grim, frantic black metal with esoteric, epic post-rock and lots and lots of pretty astounding folk orientated acoustic guitar work. The first thing you will notice is this guy can seriously handle a guitar, using really complex classical and Latin techniques to play extremely long sections of almost bluegrass style fiddly circus music. These intervals are intended as a welcome and contrast to the muddy and misanthropic black metal.

    The majority of the black metal here is quite punk sounding with major scales dominating and the drums being more an allegro 2/4 oom-pah than a blast beat. The guitar work is frantic and dizzying in these sections and the muddiness I mentioned means it’s more rewarding to just feel the energy and atmosphere of these moments than to listen around the abrasive production to try and decipher the interplay between the layers of instruments on offer.

    For me Petrychor is at its best when the epic slower sections kick in. There’s some beautiful elemental riffs backed up with cleverly voiced synthesised orchestration. This has the same cascading cleansing sensations as music from the post-rock genre. It reminds me of Amesoeurs and Fen in that sense.

    The commendable thing about this album is probably what is making me struggle to get into it and that’s the variety on offer. The album opens with a beautiful ambient track which features a haunting and epic operatic female vocal. This is easily my favourite moment on the album. However the conventions in this section are never returned to. The second track begins with a blistering bluesy acoustic solo, before suddenly bursting into a really avant-garde Nintendo black metal riff (I’m sorry if no one else hears the Nintendo in this riff) until eventually the post-black metal takes over and I feel on safer ground again. My head is spinning. It’s not that I can’t take a mixture of conventions; I think it’s just that each conflicting section blurs any overall message behind the music and the only thing that is communicated to me through the discourse of the entire album is that Petrychor is a multi-disciplined virtuoso.

    Some individual sections communicate with me on an emotional level though, so if only for a lack of continuity in whatever compositional spirit is injected into those sections, I can’t meet this with the same excitement as the rest of the community for which I consider my self kin. But I am alone in this sentiment, and therefore, wrong. Go and listen to this and then come back and flame me for being so perversely incorrect!

    Potmos Hetoimos – Evelyn. 8/10 (80%)

    Potmos Hetoimos is a solo project hailing from the USA. The project seems to be purpose built for its composer (Matt) to sling everything that he likes about music into the pot and give it a damn good stir. Having great taste and a seasoned perspective no doubt aids the outcome of such an amalgamation and we’re presented with titan sized progressive/avant-garde melodic doom. Saying that, the project itself is totally DIY and although endearing to some (me), others may be put off by the programmed drums, ‘Line-in through a distortion pedal’ guitars and ‘Electet’ PC microphone vocals. If you’re brave enough to listen around this, you’ll hear a master craftsman at work, doing his level best to express himself with what little tools he has.

    Saying that, some parts of the album have a great balance to the mix, with everything audible and well placed - The percussion sounds are helped by a clear understanding of how to choose the right beat for the riff at hand and a sweet bass tone livens up the overall EQ of the guitars. The metal, which is a sort of unpredictable doom, slightly more on the ‘My Dying Bride’ end of ‘Opeth’ with the progressive quirks of ‘Maudlin of the Well’ and the teeth grinding intensity of ‘Esoteric’ sometimes gives way entirely for some really interesting ambient passages using flutes, synths and various idiophone sounds (as well I might mention the awesome tribal percussion section in the opening track). This is more Kayo Dot’s lack of restraint meets Pensees Nocturnes eerie carnival atmosphere (to my ears). Based on the strength of these sections, I could imagine Potmos Hetoimos moving in a more ambient/experimental direction, where the metal passages are frequented less for greater effect (I suppose I’m thinking of a similarity with what ‘Nucleus Torn’ displays).

    All of this shows that there is many a string to Potmos Hetoimos’s bow, and the gentleman behind this project is clearly growing and learning with each of his releases (this being his eighth!). Not only do I hope he continues to explore his influences to such great success, I also selfishly hope the project continues to ambitiously push the boundaries of what you can record at home, with cinematic scope in mind in spite of any DIY pitfalls that may inadvertently be mythering his path to connecting with a larger populace of music lovers.

    Primordial – Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand 8/10 (85%)

    Primordial have always had a profound influence on me and I dare say anyone with a kinship to nature and/or an interest in human nature; the internal fires that burn to fuel the emotions that give human’s a sense of self and purpose - and the ability to question who we are and what does it take to fulfil our role in this spiralling beautiful and alienating cosmos - should find Primordial utterly enchanting, inspiring and essential.

    This is a band of story tellers, whose work reached a new height of genius with their last album, ‘To the Nameless Dead’. I’m happy to say ‘RatPH’ carries the same weight of substance, with vocals that sound lustful and harrowing all in one. Crying for our land (or the land that once was) and the brave people who’ve been and gone but were ‘people’ and not just myths and bedtime stories. The voice of primordial is literally a vessel for the souls of every warrior who died with a firm belief in their heart, or every mere citizen who passed during a raid with an untold story to sing.

    Baring that in mind it’s hard not to well up with emotion under the weight of the sheer majesty of this music; especially in tracks like ‘Bloodied Yet Unbowed’. ‘Mouth of Judas’ is another fantastic track which at one point has one of those perfectly timed classic melodic metal moments; the track pulses into a distorted folk riff that just screams 90’s era peaceville. I’m not sure why I’m naming songs here, because the whole album is just a tumbling revelation of epic and intelligent song craft!

    I’ve heard a few criticisms saying the black metal in their sound has made way for more straight up rock conventions... but I don’t feel that at all. This album rarely goes fast... maybe that’s what these people mean? In spite of that fact, the elemental ferocity is still there, not to mention the essential melancholy which celebrates our rotten condition and stares ‘misthropically’ into the eyes of every philistine that blindly follows commerciality, thus feeding a corporate machine that further pulls and drags us away from our ancestry, the earth and the things in life that truly matter. To me Primordial is all about preservation of the traditions and philosophies which enable us to proudly enact fulfilled lives.

    Revokation – The End Ablated. 9/10 (90%)

    Revokation is a death metal band from LEEDS UK. Their unique variation on death metal includes influence from neighbouring genres such as black metal and Grindcore. Prior to this release they put together a tasty little EP called “The Unknown One” which was almost entirely DIY, with home recorded drums that actually sounded great, if not a little lo-fi and a mix that maybe lacked the shimmer of a professional production, but still this release communicated the songs really well and Revokation were able to build their profile up on the back of this handmade mini-CD.

    Now, new tracks written and countless live shows later, Revokation is on the verge of releasing their newest offering. The band have clearly gone from strength to omnipotence, as this five track EP casts a monumental shadow over the former release, if not for the sheer genius of the song writing or pure quality of the production then for the ravenous energy that bleeds from every pour of this beast!

    Lyrical themes range from ‘the human’; madness, isolation and emotional depravity, to ‘the religious’; in defiance of indoctrinating ideologies, and of course, ‘monsters’; from the tales of Lovecraft to the demons and demigod’s of Solomon’s Goetia. The vocal delivery sounds like pure self destructive catharsis! Shouts, screams and roars that are as scintillating as they are intimidating.

    The drumming is a massive point of interest here. The performance is raw and invigorating. The drummer manages to seamlessly swing between grind-y/sludgy loose beats that have lots of feel and emotion to quite clinical and technical blasting. It’s like the band has two drummers who occasionally fuse into one to bring us the best of both worlds. The feel is almost completely ‘live’ which is where a lot of the punishing energy in this EP comes from, but then it questions, how inhuman is this guy that can blast and roll and groove so effortlessly with such feel, sometimes pushing the tempo to its upper limits and sometimes bringing it right back down for the massive almost doom laden riff work? The performance must’ve been done under lots of pressure to retain this feel and yet from start to finish the kit remains under an extreme but faultless and controlled assault.

    The guitar work is throttling! The riffs themselves are played with ‘Gojira’/’Amon Amarth’ like precision and articulation but rhythmically and melodically, it’s like ‘Decapitated’ working with the preferred scales of ‘Wolves in the Throne Room’. The guitarist has clearly developed an almost telepathic link with the drummer, as he manages to wrap up his riffs perfectly in rhythm with the spontaneous fills provided in the percussion. The tone is pure ENGL power, and this EP could very well be a poster child for this slogan “How to make your band God-like? Buy a fucking ENGL.”

    The bassist is clearly a tentacled demon whom the band summons to beef up their low end. With a jazzy finger picked style he warmly covers the frantic riffs in a coat of larva. Once again, almost telepathic and circus style talent is on display as the interplay between instruments is wordlessly driving towards a common goal... that being to influence the listener to fall into a hypnotic state of conflict where dark and destructive emotions rise to the surface and are forced into combat with subconscious fears, the psyche being the battleground with the ultimate outcome: galvanising the listener into a stronger, more conflict ready mentality. I.E. if you listen to this on a bus and some toe-rag starts giving you hassle, he’ll probably find himself laid in the road, trying to work out which bits of the surrounding debris are shards of broken glass and which bits are his absent teeth. Wish him luck with that as he’s also blind now... yeah, in all the excitement you also put his eyes in.

    Sleeping Peonies - Ghosts & Other Things 9/10 (96%)

    A fantastic little DIY effort here, released by US label Khrysanthoney (a fresh innovative label who seem to engage bands that create dreamy epic atmospheres, which turns out to be a lot of post-rock/shoegaze, punk and pop (yes pop) inspired black metal). However, this is from the mind of a young talent who dwells upon our fair shores (and the British Coast line is of massive importance to the Sleeping Peonies sound)!

    What do we have here then? Well, it's a very successful continuation of the completely unique sound crafted for the first demo, 'Rose curl, sea swirl' (one of my favourite releases of 2010 (what a year it was) ). The music itself is immensely descriptive and colourful...

    I'll try dissect it, and what it means to me based on what I know about this projects visionary creator -

    First of all, Thick harmonic, rumbling, yearning saw-tooth guitar drones with a distant and nautical sound, almost like brass horns, fill and fog the majority of the frequential space and help begin to create the picture of a seaside town in its off season. This voice feels to me to be the body for the majority of these complex compositions. At times it offers a basso continuo-like drone, but others it offers a very wide melodic wall which paints something 'schematically vast' in the listeners mind, to me it's almost certainly the expanse of the sea...

    Meanwhile tremolo picked, delay-saturated guitar melodies take the lead voice. This is completely epic! Prepare yourself for some hair raising-clenched teeth-eyes watering moments. The melodies themselves are not the rising predictable aeolian mode melodies of most generic post-rock. There's a prevalence of a real sense for notes that relate to each other in an almost abstract attempt to communicate something more. To me, this instrument is painting the skies, the clouds, the weather and the birds. All the little details I suppose.

    The Bass here is slick, just like on the Demo. It's a very poppy 80's goth bass sound and it's immensely charming! This plays a big part in the nostalgic, 'waking from a dream sensation' people have all related to this band.

    The drums are programmed, but treat with so many effects that they sit really comfortably in the mix without taking away from the organic sound. The beats and rhythms feel tidal, tumbling up from little fills on the cymbals into blastbeats and then tumbling back down into nothing. It's not just a unique programmed-drum sound, It's also apparent the beats themselves are quite atypical and a signature part of why Sleeping Peonies are an entity of its very own.

    The vocals are shouted/screamed and are performed with passion, giving this EP the raw, emotional energy black metal needs to become successful. Some describe these vocals as screamo... something I'm not too familiar with and probably wouldn't listen to if isolated away from the black metal element, but the stylistic marriage works really well for me. The vocals place the composer behind Sleeping Peonies as a character in the setting which is painted by the rest of the instruments. Spoken word sections are delivered by a female voice, adding a certain mystique and narrative to the discourse of the journey.

    Other various instruments come into play such as a piano sound with very short accents put on the notes, but treated with a lot of reverb and delay. This is the most melodic and 'pop' part of the band and perhaps the most attractive element to first time listeners, as it's avant-garde and dreamy melody lines which contain no dissonance create the huge contrast when the waves of drums and guitars come crashing back in. Sigur Ros would be a fair comparison. No really.

    There's also a big slab of pad sounds filling out the chords, which works really well in the sense that the previously mentioned guitar has such a thick and brutal sound, it helps discern the voicing of the chords and increases the already vast detail to the ensemble of sounds.

    The production is completely suitable for the job at hand, and mainly I should mention the use of DELAY! Yes, this record is full of it. Somewhere in all the swirling rhythmical milliseconds of decaying sounds, little accidental esoteric worlds are made which in the most atmospheric and powerful sections, seem to dissolve and metamorphosize into other strange and beautiful galaxies. This is a more emotive and abstract part of the atmosphere, although in one sense it's visual as it creates an accoustic, like the sounds are bouncing off a cliff face, or within a cave, or a hollow abandoned lighthouse - but mainly it's just creating a sort of spontaneous, aleatoric event which induces a subconscious wonderment.

    I've been excited about this release for a while and it exceeded expectations. There's so much to get your head around when experiencing this music and it's rewarding to let your focus shift through the different voices in the composition, as well as just zoning out to let this creation wash over you! Looking forward to seeing this performed live, hopefully in the not too distant future.

    A Storm of Light – As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade. 6/10 (61%)

    Undeniable greatness is wielded in riffs which barrage the senses. These songs are gigantic and the tone of the instruments and production is as full and as satisfying as this sort of grooved out sludge/doom metal can get.

    Collapse is a particularly outstanding bit of work and sets the tone early on, although the crushing levels of heaviness in this track are never exceeded and leaves me longing. Instead a desolate atmosphere is examined through the obvious neurosis connections, and the lyrics fill in the blanks for us. Come the outro of Death’s Head, although weary, my ears prick up again and I find this is the most connective moment on the record with huge epic crescendos on scuzzy riffs and the vocals really meld into the sonic landscape.

    Other than this one instant when the voice and music are symbiotic, my hang up here is the vocal delivery and melody which is a constant through the album. They’re very grungey – close cousins to Acid Bath/Alice in Chains, and it’s admittedly not what I’m used to. I can easily listen around them for the majority of the album, but a certain melody keeps creeping back in to the voice and becomes sort of predictable and strangulating to me.

    I’m sorry I didn’t take an opportunity to see this band live earlier in the year. I’m sure these songs would completely decimate in that environment. I think I probably need to experience that to gain a true appreciation of what A Storm of Light do.

    Sun Devoured Earth – Good Memories Are Hardest To Keep. 8/10 (80%)

    Sun Devoured Earth is a relatively young black metal/shoegaze solo project from Latvia. The force behind this band is an extremely prolific composer, but the quality of his output doesn’t seem to falter despite the quantity his audience gratefully receives.

    This music is thick and dense, with a rainy masque of gloom championing the aural identity. This is achieved through a blunt edged production where guitars, bass, drums, synths and vocals all seem to be operating in a similar frequential space. This means the mix is muddy, but there’s an element of craft to this that means rather than hearing the separate timbres focusing and pulling in all directions, we’re met with one super-timbre which writhes and fades with glacial grace and avalanche like intensity.

    To my ears, this is one of the generic conventions of ‘Blackgaze’, and Sun Devoured Earth are definitely one of the main reference points for the recently blossoming sub genre (I’m sure we’re agreed ‘blackgaze’ is in its infancy?). Lots of reverb and delay make the thick folk melodies feel surreal and enigmatic. Distorted walls of bassy guitar rhythm make up the grim abrasion.

    I really enjoy this music and think Sun Devoured Earth has shown amazing potential. I’m excited to see how this composer intends to expand on his pallet of Twin Peaks-esque gothic pop structures and want him to keep churning out tracks of this consistent quality

    Tartar Lamb II - Polyimage of Known Exits. 9/10 (91%)

    Tartar Lamb has evolved into Tartar Lamb II. What has changed? Seemingly we're being treat to an entirely different ensemble; however, it's still a subsection of Kayo Dot. If you don't like Kayo Dot, leave now. If you do. Proceeeeed.

    Toby Driver is an unevil genius of music. His compositions are utterly unique in every way. And so, the sounds and textures he presents in his various projects are almost completely foreign on the ear. Some might translate this as abrasive. To me, it's just the most glorious high-art. At times, its difficult aural flavours and melodies take a few listens to really understand, but the majority of the time the music is immeasurably communicative and emotional.

    The piece is split into four movements which are depicted as tracks on the release.

    I have to keep this section brief... The composition is "restricted" to a small collection of instruments. The same massive bass sound which is used on Coyote is Toby's weapon of choice. Then we have brass and woodwind... some electronics and samples... some synths... Some vocals... No Violin... No Guitar... Very little in Percussion...

    I knew I was going to find this difficult to put into words. The texture this collection of instruments creates is extremely smooth and flowing and allows for progressions to move and evolve without ever needing to punctuate themselves in a conventional time frame leaving the music itself extremely loose and open to endless interpretation through its performance.

    The melodies contained within are bordering on harrowing. Partly for the album's subject matter, which is the days after the passing of Toby Driver's friend Yuko Sueta, whose last days were also chronicled in Kayo Dot's latest full Length 'Coyote'. Toby Driver's sadness and melancholy is completely on display here in a way none of his compositions have shown before. The place we're taken as listeners feels more unnerving to me than his visits to the 'Lugubrious Library Loft'.

    The occurrences of sound played on the bass are fairly pointillist, with a continuous bed of tumbling chords created by the brass, synth and woodwind. The bass’s sporadic licks sound quite literally obsessive around a certain motif. Very similar to the first Tartar Lamb, Sixty Metonymies in that sense. It creates a somnambulant mood over time, although with it, urgency... I suppose that’s why I've found this music chameleonic of my mood?

    Anyway, here's to hoping Toby writes an essay on this piece because it's allot to get your head around and dissect, and any help to solve the massive puzzle would be hugely appreciated.

    Toby Driver took a risk, using Kickstarter to fund this project! In doing so he had to raise $6000 in donations before a certain date, which he did. There's still hope for our world.

    This review doesn't do Polyimage of Known Exits justice at all, but what words could? Go forth and experience it.

    Ulcerate - The Destroyers of All. 8/10 (84%)

    Here we have a big slab of emotive, evil, avant-garde Progressive blackened death metal. From the opening notes, I could tell this was right up my street.

    I'm not a big follower of straight up death metal, and generally find it fairly exhausting to digest. I have a great appreciation for the technicality of it, and especially enjoy seeing good death metal bands live. But beyond that, I usually need something more out of my music to be able to sit and listen happily for 40+ minutes.

    Ulcerate are quite new to me, and have a slightly different approach to the morbid brutality of the (somewhat tired) genre. As far as the guitars are concerned, speed and technicality is sacrificed for a far darker, slower and more compositional approach. Something more akin to bands like Portal, Impetuous Ritual, Ehnahre or Nihil (essentially death metal on a hot dose of Ved Buens Ende).

    The guitars literally make me feel like I'm sliding down a steep wet embankment into a pitch black pit filled with Lovecraftian horrors. It is awesome. One guitar is playing clash-y melodies quite high up the neck, while another is plodding and bending around on the low notes. It doesn't just serve to omit a sense of dread and horror through the epic macabre dissonance; it's actually really quite clever stuff.

    The vocals have Eric Rutan written all over them. Very devastating loud and low shouts and growls.

    The drums trip me up a little bit. It's fast and technical, and at times doesn't even seem to follow the guitars, which works on one level, but on the other, it feels like the drummer was really intent on showing technical flare and speed, where it might've suited the overall feel better if he'd dropped the clinical blasts for looser jazzier style black metal drumming. This is really just a point of preference though.

    Anyway, I think this album is going to be on repeat in my ears for some time to come. It's revived something that was fairly dead to me, and I have a feeling this release is going to be very popular with almost every scene in underground metal.

    Ulver - Wars of the Roses 10/10 (98%)

    Ulver are one of those rare bands who not only manage to continually re-invent themselves without losing the idiosyncrasies of their musical identity, but also create music which communicates on a far higher level than any other generic or conventional band, group, ensemble or collective. Deeply philosophical and observational subjects can lose emotional weight when not treat with right sophistication in the arena of a concept album, but Ulver have managed to craft one of their heaviest most touching musical journeys to date out of just that.

    This is the first time a recording has involved the creative input of Manchester born wolf, Daniel O'sullivan. Known previously for his work in Mothlite, Miasma & the Carousel of Headless Horses, Sunn0))) and Aethenor (just to name a few), his profile has reached prolific new heights since his adaptation into Ulver's circle. It's clear when you see Ulver live (which I have on four separate occasions now) that he is, in some ways, the unsung star of the show - taking up duties on piano, guitar, bass and vocals. Without him, I personally can't see how the live show could ever have been the massive success it is. It is also very clear that he has a massive bond and chemistry with Kristoffer Rygg, the vocalist and father of this evolutionary collective, as Dan is clearly trusted and given free range to express Ulver's music with added improvised trills or occasionally he cleverly repositions chords and adds jazzy steps into the melodies.

    The inclusion of this new full time member has given Ulver's sound a new strength. Melismatic piano lead melodies in tracks such as providence are clearly the brain child of this new partnership, as well as the almost pop/prog opener, February MMX.

    The subject matter on this record is a strange one. It seems extremely personal to the band and explores its individual’s heritage, but no punches are pulled and the lyrics are very critical. February MMX literally seems to be describing the events of that month and year... the month that Ulver went on their first full live tour. The chorus lyrics reference the live setup directly (vertical lights of death in codes of red and blue. Birds in black and white and the drums of world war two), and the verse speaks of the sorrow and sacrifice in having to perform such harrowing material with a lot of personal events taking place behind the scenes.

    Norwegian Gothic follows, and is about as far a polar opposite to the driving pop like conventions of the albums opener. The music itself reminds me of the last couple of minutes of 'Like Music', when the track dissolves into a fragmented, swirling whirl pool of bowed tones and agonised samples. Kristoffer Rygg’s Vocals heave deeply over the top of this soundscape painting a most dreary picture.

    Providence is the albums epic, with a massive crescendo on a melody that sounds like the distant cousin of the 'Not Saved' piano motif. It also features a female vocalist. Something that's definitely going to divide Ulver's fanbase even further. The inclusion reminds me of Lee's input on tracks like A Natural Disaster by Anathema. It's a really well performed part and delivered in a seductive tone which totally juxtaposes just about everything on this album.

    September IV is hard to comment on. It is clearly a very, very personal song and having been through similar events to those described and had to witness people go through these events I can only say it sums up those painful feelings well, with an almost classic rock vibe to the melodies which for the first half of the track make up a sombre ballad. The song ends with a wall of sound that drags you along at a galloping pace, with very visual sound design making for a colourful and subjective little trip - lots of sweeping frequencies giving the sensation of ducking and dodging oncoming traffic.

    England is a more structured piece which I actually witnessed being exhibited for the first time at Ulver's grandiose performance in Oslo's visionary Opera house. The last section in this song is the highlight of the whole album for me. Massive waves of crushing bass over drums that pulse in and out and vocals that hit whole new levels of epic with a piano gently story telling in the middle. I had to turn this song up as far as my headphones could stand. It's so good and very, very empowering.

    Island is interesting and unique. It opens with some rhythmic found sounds (a break-beat convention) which quickly dissolve into acoustic guitar playing glistening and sad chords over yet more progressive soundscapes. This track sounds quite psychedelic to me, and has really wet my appetite for the covers album Ulver spoke of releasing containing the sixties protest songs.

    The final track is another epic, Stone Angels... this track is just indescribable. Narrated by Daniel, speaking words by writer Keith Waldrop (a close friend of Jorn, Ulver's very own researcher/writer/lyricist/philosopher). I need to single this song out a few times and listen to it away from the shorter tracks before it. There's so much going on, if this track had been a little longer it could've been a unique release of its own and it would've been one of Ulver's strongest.

    To sort of Pinpoint Ulver with a reference for where their music is now, I'd say the melodies have the same surreal melancholy to the material heard on the two Silence EPs such as 'Darling Didn't We Kill You', but the experimental focus of those two EP's is swapped for the song writing heard in tracks like 'Let the Children Go', 'Little Blue Bird', 'For the Love of God' or 'Lost in Moments'. The music here is traumatic, lush and harrowing... It's an album I'd never have dreamt to hear from Ulver, and yet only Ulver could be capable of.

    Virus - The Agent That Shapes the Dessert 8/10 (81%)

    I have so so much love for this Norwegian band and I've been counting the days to this coming out. It's my first official Album of 2011 too, so getting off on the right foot! Carl-Michael Eide was one of the limbs in Ved Buens Ende with creative brethren Vicotnik, until they disbanded, seemingly because at the time nobody got what they were doing, lots of reviews and such claiming they didn't know how to tune (let alone play-) their instruments; when in fact, they were extremely ahead of their time (Only need to listen to Mastodon who did essentially the exact same thing with their guitars only with punk at their core rather than black metal). Then after Carl's fall VBE reformed, only for Carl to realise he wanted to do a project where he had 100% creative say and Vicotnik knew his own VBE input could be recycled in Dodheimsgard. Thus came Virus.

    This album is the third in a series of completely cult releases and is still essentially avant-garde rock with leanings toward epic black metal sensibilities. It is not a big departure from previous album The Black Flux, which is a good and a, well it's just a good thing really (more later-ish).

    Anyway, No hiding behind horrible frequencies to horrify the listener, just genuinely intricate guitar work. It really is a genuinely unique sound with lots of minor first intervals bleeding into one another creating beating effects that only a specific guitar tone and tuning can compliment (a fairly raw but clean sound with lots of clink and string noise). It's actually bordering on virtuoso stuff and is a whole new school in riff writing which I hope more bands can tap into and put there slant on it (Not just Mastodon (And whirling (And Acolyte) ) ).

    The vocals here are, as always, a strong point and coupled with the riffs, it's majestic, maddening and ultimately charming. Maybe not quite as epic as previous releases though. They're a little dryer and louder in the mix making them slightly more uncomfortable and some of the atmosphere is lost. The vocal performance is, however, great. I imagine Czral (the kvlt version of 'Carl') didn't want to have to hide any of that under reverbs, even though it would have worked really well. This might be just me though.

    Album closer 'Call of the Tuskers' has guest vocals from 'pappa wolf' Kristoffer Rygg... really eventful and extremely good track. These guys are good friends so it's touching to hear, not to mention we've got very used to hearing Garm's voice over lush strings and eerie electronics, so nice to have some solid riffs giving it more melodic grounding.

    The themes as I interpret them are about erosion/evolution/nature/death/renewal and are all good in my book. Raw energetic and organic music about something other than human emotion... it's strange, but it works. The natural world is a place of wonder, it's a disturbing place we don't fully understand yet and Virus twist this enigma into something surreal and predatory.

    Do I wish they'd further departed from their sound on The Black Flux? Well I was surprised they didn't, but at the same time, there's years ahead of us for Carl to explore new territory. I'm not the type of person who'd hold a successful continuation of a sound against a band.

    Wiht – The Harrowing of the North. 9/10 (92%)

    Wiht are an instrumental power trio, famed for tenderising audiences with a sonically visceral live show – mixing progressive metal with epic post-doom and spewing it from a backline that would give the council’s environmental health department a heart attack. But unlike many bands making similar claims about how bloody loud and horrible they can be, Wiht actually compose with a true understanding of the weapons they wield, before turning up the volume and knocking 15 years off the structural viability of whatever venue they’re exhibiting in.

    I feel a pull towards mentioning the cleverness of the album’s title. The music is actually conceptually composed around the historical context of Britain in the year 1100AD, and so the title in truth refers to that, but in accordance with Wiht’s residency, in the North, and the utterly astounding nature of this album, it could be said that Wiht’s mission statement is to actually be The Harrowing in the North. It’s hard to argue, if they were to make such a claim, when you hear how vital the post-metal here is.

    What I’m saying in a round and about way is that Wiht currently sit upon a cold
    throne up int’ north. This album is the sigillum they needed to fly in securing the fact they are certainly primed to become one of the higher powers in doom. A bold statement (which time will tell on), but when you hear certain passages burst with the same climatic and widescreen/cinematic density, colour and ferocity of the great genre-ascendant: Neurosis – You then realise these riffs wouldn’t be out of place on ‘A Sun That Never Sets’ if Steven O’malley were the third guitarist. Based on that statement you’d think anything would be possible for this band so long as their music can travel and find the right sets of ears.

    I probably sound like I’m gushing a little and waffling a lot, but this is one of those occasions when I’m truly taken a back. My hope is that Wiht can bottle whatever unrestrained, psychedelic, experimental muse lead to this beast’s conception and add liberal sprinkles to their future releases, which I’ll be disappointed-with-the-planet-earth if are not released through one of the major doom labels. Similar disappointment will be symptomatic if Wiht aren’t a main feature on Roadburn in at least two years time.

    Wizard's Beard - Pure Filth. 8/10 (79%)

    The moment this album starts we're immediately thrust into the foggy vile dungeon of this doom conjuring wizard. This band does not do subtlety. They don't do tension and build ups. It's just full throttle from the first second.

    Riffs churn around and around like a feral warlock stirring his caldron of evil filth. The ingredients are the eyes of a god, the tail of a monkey (and some Iron), a sprinkle of napalm, the corroding tie of a conformist jobsworth... you see where I'm going with these loosely band related analogies? Basically, this brew tastes like absolute shit, but that's exactly the point... and you're not suppose to drink it you idiot, you listen to it. And it does the opposite of enchant. If you were enchanted before, you're thoroughly 'unhappy-ever-after' post-the aural consumption of this virile potion.

    The riffs are fuelled by a seven string guitar and have a touch of southern groove to them... Occasionally the tonal pentatonic feel that makes me smile and nod my head in obeyment dissolve into massive dissonant versions of the same riffs. This reminds me more of bands like Zatokrev, or Through Silver in Blood era Neurosis.

    The vocals are blood curdling rasps and complete the package of various visceral sonic approaches wonderfully. Occasionally we're treat to layered up gang like vocals that send shivers down the spine. The tone and balance between the voices is hit perfectly and sounds positively demonic.

    Wizard's Beard know when to go slower, when to go heavier, when to go even slower, and when to go even heavier... and it seems this album just does this constantly until by the end you're exhausted and need to listen to some Enya until your testosterone supplies re-supplement themselves.

    The band has a tremendous amount of energy which is well captured on this recording and definitely makes me want to catch them in the live environment. In some ways it makes me think they wrote a lot of the material in the rehearsal room because every musician is really bringing their own onslaught to the sound which ultimately is an amalgamation of mid-paced death metal, Grindcore, sludge and Doom. But not only that, the songs progress very naturally making the heaviness easier to digest.

    As far as I know, Wizard's Beard's intentions are to write and record a second album and play a load of shows off the back of this release which, so far, has had an absolutely fantastic reception.

    Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage 9/10 (92%)

    Wolves in the Throne Room are a Black Metal band from the United States that should need no introduction. Since their first album WitTR have put out consistent efforts, each one with its own aural characteristics and a slant on an elemental sentiment the members wear proudly on their sleeves. The factor joining these albums is the environmental message purveyed and the fact that the riffing is just sublime. For me, Two Hunters and the Black Cascade weren’t even close to the colossal atmosphere of Diadem of 12 Stars, and so when approaching Celestial Lineage, I expected less than I was plated up with.

    I truly think with this album WitTR have lived up to the hype of their multitude of colourful and adoring fans, met their critics’ stare dead on and even shed some of their own skin as part of the journey. The whole labelling a hipster crowd thing is irritating now (I almost can’t believe I’m bringing it up again) – this band has been dubbed slightly responsible for that, but the truth of the matter is, they connect with “Hipsters” (music lovers who don’t necessarily have a problem with society, thus don’t bedroom dwell and often aren’t constrained to one type of music) because they’ve managed to musically transcend to a place where they have a wider appeal. This should not be a burden to WitTR’s conscience or reflect badly on their fans. Some elitists just need to grow up and move on.

    This is a work of complete and utter cosmic genius! From the atmospheres of the opening, as the black metal guitar slowly trickles in, I can feel the soil between my toes – Often the word ‘inspired’ is used, but very rarely can you feel that the person wielding their muse has yielded themselves almost entirely to their subject and is acting solely as a vessel. As a result I truly feel the members of WitTR have managed to tap into some of nature’s deeper secrets and more awe-inspiring mysteries. I can best describe the central theme as pantheism, which not only interests me as an individual, but is a belief that sums up the closest thing I feel to a sense of spirituality.

    The music is lush and harmonious from one angle, and ferocious through-to-dissonant from another. The melodic ground covered is complemented by heaving guitar tones and punk like drum battery. I really am a sucker for the changes of pace the band offer during the heavy sections, but the highlight here is the utterly unique ambient sections, where female vocals and synths create a truly beautiful sonic world which is thick and immediately gratifying.

    Word is that this is the last album these musicians will do under the Wolves in the Throne Room moniker. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is wide open, and depends heavily on what direction their new projects will take, I for one am assured from these ashes something very special shall be born and the legacy could not have been left more complete than by their strongest album to date, Celestial Lineage.

    Woods of Desolation - Torn Beyond Reason 9/10 (85%)

    My immediate reaction when I heard this was that Woods of Desolation have managed to find a perfectly balanced sound and in some ways, fulfilled a yearning for a band doing, well, exactly what they do, as well as they do it.

    As the name suggests the band's main muse seems to be nature - and the folky vibe adds mystique to thick, swelling, harmonious guitar driven black metal.

    The use of the word 'Desolation' in the bands name confuses me a tiny bit... desolate this is not... it's hopeful and epic in a similar way to Alcest and Agalloch, only perhaps no where near as mild? Beautiful is perhaps the word, with a bit of misery and despair twisted into the scenario. This has more of an edge and bite than the aforementioned bands.

    The majority of the songs kick in with the main riff or melodic theme, which forms the backbone of the entire song. The instrumental focus may shift and the dynamics deviate and then the motifs might melodically ascend or modulate, but it's all very linear and the progressions between sections are never large... which unfortunately to me, is a slight negative as it gets repetetive without feeling overly hypnotic. However, if the particular riff in question hits the spot and I find myself in the perfect mood for what it delivers, then it's an absolutely galvanising experience.

    The vocals are excellent. It's drowned in loads of effects making the actual lyrics unintelligible, but the screams remind me of Neige's work in Lantlos/Amesoeurs, the cleans are very Agallochian, with the occasional harsh clean vocal that's got a bit of Jari Maaenpaa to it.

    Looking forward to the season's turning their mouth to the winter so I can enjoy this in the dreary cold, rather than the current glorious sunshine, which suffocates my desire to be emersed in music that barrages the senses.

    Xerath – II. 8/10 (77%)

    I discovered Xerath back in the glory days of myspace. They had some samples/demos on their page and I found that, at the time, it was almost identically aligned to the sort of music I was interested in composing (basically polyrhythms and breakdowns under neo-classical and melodic/ambient ideas). II really does represent the farthest reaches this kind of music has achieved, with sincerely aggressive and mind bogglingly technical riffs which always retain a melodic soul above the thunderous pounding of the mesmerising accents creating the ever evolving grooves.

    Using a full orchestra with metal has always been a curious and welcome marriage of sounds, and instantly draws comparisons to some of the more flamboyant power metal bands (Nightwish) or theatrical black metal (Dimmu Borgir) (lets not forget Metallica’s insanely successful live show with orchestra that philistines and scholars alike have since admired). This orchestra sounds like it was programmed on some pretty up to date software and is brilliantly constructed, with brass and strings cleverly balanced harmonically to sweep and change dynamically in a very good attempt to represent the sounds of epic film music, but still my ears can just about pick up that it’s not quite the real thing.

    What is the real thing is the vocals which are a massive improvement on the already stellar first album. This man seems to do just about every style of metal to perfection. Maybe too perfect for my liking, if you get my meaning? No? Well I suppose I prefer more vulnerability and honesty in a voice, and even though I admire the inhuman qualities this guy can achieve, that’s just what it is. Inhuman. Inapproachable. Difficult for someone with my current musical leanings to connect with. Nothing but compliments though on this sterling performance.

    Because this music has mesmerising and hypnotic elements in the rhythm, I sometimes worry it’s going to become stagnant and arduous but it doesn’t. This is something of a massive achievement for music of this genre (take Hacride or Aabsinthe as examples who betray their excellence occasionally by staying too rigid to the rhythmic direction of the composition and not enough to the melodic leanings or even following the magnetism of the song itself).

    Finally, I exhausted this ilk of music for myself by writing two albums worth of it when I was an angry teenager who was constantly seeking approval from my musical peers – so for Xerath to genuinely impress me with a release sharing common musical goals is a bit of a feat, and I am surprised at myself for enjoying this so much. I’m not in any way encouraged to return to writing this sort of music because these guys have the sound completely sealed up! I really hope this album travels and I look forward to seeing Xerath live at Damnation Fest 2011 in November.
  • [Ambient/Post-rock] Vinc2 - By The Third Sea (new album)

    25 Jun 2013, 11:17 by Vinc2


    "By The Third Sea", le nouvel album de Vinc2, est prévu pour le 17 septembre 2013. En attendant, il est disponible en pré-commande sur la page Bandcamp de Vinc2.

    Vous pouvez choisir entre deux formats :
    - CD (digipack édition limitée à 100 exemplaires, signés et numérotés)
    - Téléchargement (mp3 320, FLAC ou autres)

    Une pré-commande de "By The Third Sea" inclut le téléchargement immédiat du titre "Between C and Y" (mp3 320, FLAC ou autres), en écoute ici :

    Influences : Sigur Ros, Eluvium, Jonsi And Alex, Hammock, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter ...

    Vinc2 sur LastFM : Vinc2
    Dernier album sur LastFM : By The Third Sea
    Bandcamp :
    Site internet :

    Merci à tous !



    "By The Third Sea", the new album of Vinc2, is scheduled for 17 September 2013.
    Meanwhile, it is available for pre-order on the Vinc2 Bandcamp page.

    You can choose between two formats:
    - CD (digipack limited edition of 100, signed and numbered)
    - Download (MP3 320, FLAC, or other)

    Pre-order of "By The Third Sea" includes immediate download of the song "Between C and Y" (320 mp3, FLAC, or others), it can
    be heard here:

    Influences : Sigur Ros, Eluvium, Jonsi And Alex, Hammock, Olafur Arnalds, Max Richter ...

    Vinc2 onLastFM : Vinc2
    Last record sur LastFM : By The Third Sea
    Bandcamp :
    WebSite :

    Thanks !
  • if you nothing left to burn, you have to set yourself on low-fire (best of 2012)

    31 Jan 2013, 14:20 by enigmapanda

    my L favourite longplayers from 12, in alphabetical (with my favourite track)

    2econd Class Citizen - The Small Minority (Memory Page)
    Asaf Avidan - Different Pulses (Is This It)
    Blockhead - Interludes After Midnight (Never Forget Your Token)
    Brian Eno - Lux (Lux 4)
    Chilly Gonzales - Solo Piano II (Train of Thought)
    Chinese Man - Live à la Cigale (Le pudding à l'arsenic)
    Christoph Berg - Paraphrases (Interlude (remixed by aus))
    dictaphone - poems from a rooftop (Manami)
    Food - Mercurial Balm (Mercurial Balm)
    Grand Salvo - Slay Me In My Sleep (With the photograph lying between them, she tells him her story and they talk for a long time.)
    Helios - Moiety (Ours Everyday)
    Hidden Orchestra - Archipelago (Flight)
    Hilary Hahn & Hauschka - Silfra (Krakow)
    How to Dress Well - Total Loss (Cold Nite)
    Ilya - Fathoms Deep (All I Got)
    Inch-time - Myth and Impermanence (Woods)
    Jenova 7 & Mr. Moods - Time Travellers (Faded)
    John Talbot - Fin (Missing You)
    Kettel & Secede - When Can (Ringvanes)
    Kid Koala - 12 bit Blues (3 Bit Blues)
    Library Tapes - Sun Peeking Through (Sun Peeking Through)
    Little People - We Are But Hunks of Wood (Eminence Grise)
    Loscil - Sketches from New Brighton (Second Narrows)
    Marcus D - Melancholy Hopeful (Nocturne of Love)
    Mark Lanegan Band - Blues Funeral (Harborview Hospital)
    Max Richter - Recomposed by Max Richter: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons
    (Winter 2)
    Message To Bears - Folding Leaves / Remixes And Demos) (When We Were Young)
    Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again (I'm Getting Ready)
    Minotaur Shock - Orchard (Through the Pupils of Goats)
    Mungolian Jet Set - Mungodelics
    (Mungolian Jetset Presents Jaga Jazzist Vs Knights Of Jumungus: Toccata)
    Nils Frahm - Screws (You)
    Patric Watson - Adventures In Your Own Backyard (The Things You Do)
    Peter Broderick - (Everything I Know)
    Poppy Ackroyd - Escapement (Glass Sea)
    Portico Quartet - Portico Quartet (Lacker Boo)
    Psychemagik - Psychemagik (Andalucia)
    Rebecca Brandt - Numbers & Shapes (Other Places)
    Shigeto - Lineage (Ann Arbor Part 3 & 4)
    Shitao - No bridge behind (Like The Dust)
    Soap&Skin - Narrow (Voyage Voyage)
    Stephan Mathieu and David Sylvian - Wandermüde (Velvet Revolution)
    Susumu Yokota - Dreamer (Animiam Of The Airy)
    Taken by Trees - Other Worlds (Dreams (Coconut Cut))
    Terranova - Hotel Amour / Nightporter
    (Paris Is For Lovers (My Love) (Featuring Tomas Høffding))
    The Flaming Lips - The Flaming Lips And Heady Fwends
    (The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face (featuring Erykah Badu))
    The Caretaker - Patience / Extra Patience
    (Isolated lights on the abyss of ignorance)
    The Flashbulb - Hardscrabble (Seq Changing Airborne)
    Tor - Drum Therapy (Paper Rain)
    Ursprung - Ursprung (Mummenschanz)
    Yppah - Eighty One (Film Burn)

    my X favourite extended players from 12 (with my favourite track)

    01 Dustin O'Halloran & Hauschka & Jóhann Jóhannsson -
    Transcendentalism EP (An Ending, a Beginning)
    02 Samaris - Stofnar falla EP (Stofnar falla)
    03 Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm - Stare (a2 (Max Cooper Remix)
    04 Glen Porter - The Devil Is A Dancer, The Piper Is A Madman
    (The Devil Is A Dancer)
    05 Hiatus - Change Up EP (Change Up (feat. Smoke Feathers))
    06 Deltron 3030 - Positive Contact 10"
    (Deltron 16 (Looking Across The Sky Dub Mix))
    07 Monkey Safari with Bon Iver - Hi Life (Hi Life (Cheeky Bold Cover))
    08 Pascal Pinon - (Party Wolves EP (5 Hour Party People)
    09 Drops - Believe You Me EP (You Have My Word (Message To Bears Remix))
    10 The Kills - The Last Goodbye (The Last Goodbye)

    my icelandic top X (with, you'right, my favourite track)

    01 Asonat - Love in Times of Repetition (Cycle Starts Over)
    02 Beatmakin Troopa - If you fall you fly (The First Touch)
    03 Mikael Lind - Felines Everywhere (Untangling lines)
    04 Sigríður Níelsdóttir - Fagra Ísland (Ástarjátning)
    05 Legend - Fearless (City)
    06 Jóhann Jóhannsson - Copenhagen Dreams
    (They Had to Work it Out Between Them)
    07 Hildur Guðnadóttir - Leyfðu Ljósinu (Leyfðu Ljósinu)
    08 Human Woman - Human Woman (Sleepy)
    09 Yagya - The Inescapable Decay of My Heart
    (Waiting For The Rain (Instrumental Version))
    10 Kúra - Halfway to the Moon (Anchor)

    my top V compilations from 12 (with, as you know, my favourite track)

    01 Headphone Commute - ...and darkness came (Silence)
    02 Clown & Sunset - Don't Break My Love (Avalanche)
    03 The Cinematic Orchestra pressents - In Motion #1 (Dream Work)
    04 Project Mooncircle - 10th Anniversary Compilation
    (Gika Gika (featuring Sneaky & I.V.A.))
    05 Outliers Vol. I - Iceland (The Wind Sings)

    my top V hungarian releases (still with my favouirte track)

    01 Meszecsinka - Meszecsinka (Kuku)
    02 Saint Leidal The 2nd - a6m zero (eggs of the future)
    03 Suhov & Mil - Dusty Hungarian Soundbytes
    (Fütyülök rá (I don't care a damn))
    04 Ozon - Nobody Cares Anymore (Walkin' Home)
    05 Mayberian Sanskülotts - PseudoDeath (Altató)

    my V favourite reissues in 12 (with my, yes, yes)

    01 Long Arm - The Branches - Deluxe Edition (Key Door (Berry Weight Remix))
    02 King Creosote & Jon Hopkins - Diamond Mine (Jubilee Edition)
    (Bats In The Attic (Unravelled))
    03 Massive Attack - Blue Lines (Remastered) (Hymn Of The Big Wheel)
    04 Keith Kenniff - Branches (Experimedia Reissue) (Every Morning)
    05 Banco De Gaia - Farawell Ferengistan (Special Edition)
    (Ynys Elen (Androcell Remix))

    my X favourite remixes from 12 (can't believe, but i don't need brackets for this section, hell yes!)

    01 Cherokee (Nicolas Jaar remix) by Nicolas Jaar
    02 Futile Devices (Shigeto Remix) by Shigeto
    03 Eleni Karaindrou - Depart And Eternity (Remix) by Undogmatic
    04 Island Remix by Peter Broderick
    05 Promises (Nils Frahm Version) by Nils Frahm
    06 Shades (Kippi Kanínus remix) by Kippi Kanínus
    07 Secrets, Accusations & Charges (Max Cooper Reconstruction)
    by Max Cooper
    08 Washed Up (reworked by The Gentlemen Losers)
    by The Gentlemen Losers
    09 Dream Baby Dream (Remixed by Four Tet) by Four Tet
    10 The Hang Track Pt. II (Rupert & Mennert Imploded Remix)
    by Rupert & Mennert

    X most listened experiences this year, from other years (with my favourite tracks in the brackets)

    01 Josh Ritter - Animal Years (Girl in the War) - 2006
    02 Hiatus - Ghost Notes (Save Yourself) - 2010
    03 Pretty Lights - Glowing In The Darknest Night (Still Night) - 2010
    04 Hermigervill - Sleepwork (Darkshot) - 2005
    05 Thes One - Lifestyle Marketing (Northwestern Bell) - 2007
    06 Inner Science - Elegant Confections (Vent) - 2011
    07 Ragga - Baby (Matthildur) - 2000
    08 Fredrik - Trilogi (Vanmyren) - 2010
    09 Dert - Talk Strange: A Beat Tape Inspired by Björk
    (Dert Is Out of Love) - 2009
    10 Pantha du Prince - Black Noise (Bohemian Forest) - 2010
  • New EP - Field Recordings

    30 Aug 2012, 12:23 by EchelonEffect

    Hi everybody, just a quick not to say that the new EP Field Recordings is out right now!
    Here's the link
    Dave x
    The Echelon Effect