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Monthly Soundscapes: January 2021

Aran Angmar – Black Cosmic Elements

Aran Angmar may be a relatively new band in the underground scene but its members are all veterans, hailing from groups such as Pestilence, Carach Angren, Bloodshot Dawn and Saille. On their debut record, entitled Black Cosmic Elements, the band displays a crystal clear production and a somewhat melodic black metal sound, employing atmospheric riffs, fast drum pummels and deranged howls that speak of necromancy and ancient occultist lore. While these elements are not necessarily new to the genre, the way they combine together will surely please the fans of the aggressiveness and combativeness that black metal usually provides, as well as those that follow the work of the artists involved. A decent debut all-around and hopefully, not the last record the group decides to record. [7.0]

Highlighted tracks: Into The Lawless Abyss; Serpents of the Black Sun; A Tongue as a Lash of Fire



Asphyx – Necroceros (Century Media Records)

The first month of 2021 looked quite promising in terms of metal releases and the one record that was highly-anticipated by most people was Necroceros, the first Asphyx record in five long years. With a career spanning nearly 35 years of death/doom lethality, the Dutch quartet led by the charismatic Martin van Drunen could do no wrong. As a band that has always fought against the gripping speed of metal, Asphyx always preferred to keep things on the lower end of velocity, with dense, slow and absolutely crushing riffs. In recent years, however, the band had been shifting towards a more ferocious and high-tempo sound in general, while still retaining that doom vibe that is so characteristic of them, and this new record showcases that balance in a brilliant way – from rhythm-filled monsters of songs to the crueler, monolithic and heavy-as-hell grooves, Asphyx bring to their fans a bit of both their death and doom facets, making Necroceros one of their best and most well-crafted records to date. [8.0]

Highlighted tracks: The Sole Cure Is Death; Mount Skull; Three Years of Famine; Yield or Die; Necroceros



Celestial Swarm – Gateways to the Necroverse

After the stupidly depressing year we all had with no shows or festivals, it feels great to see that the underground scene is still bursting at the seams with new and exciting bands that are power-driven to prove themselves as worthy among their peers. One such band that kicked this year with a major bang is Celestial Swarm, an international supergroup formed by vocalist DM (Disgraved, Helioss), bassist Aaron Doust (Cthulhu Rites, Festerous) and drummer William Wolfe (Ellipsism, Luminous Veil). Mastering a brutal and slamming form of blackened death metal and lyrically influenced by cosmic horror and sci-fi, these lads have distilled a debut record that is filled to the brim with massively devastating riffs, merciless blast beats and insanely gruesome gutturals that cut the air like a knife, a combination that splits your head open and grinds your bones into oblivion. As it stands, this is an incredible debut that should be appreciated by fans of both the slamming and the blackened form of death metal and is a record to watch out for by anyone looking for some more brutality in their lives. [8.5]

Highlighted tracks: Forlorn Oblivion; Void Architects; Hammer of the Demiurge; Sentient Colony; I, Cataclysm



Colosso – Hateworlds (Gruesome Records)

For those that are not in the know, Colosso is possibly one of the most brilliant projects to have come out of Portugal since the past decade. Formed solely by Max Tomé, Colosso is a progressive death metal project with influences that are deeply rooted in bands such as Meshuggah, Obscura and Ulcerate, just to name a few. Since its inception in 2011, Max Tomé has been channeling his creative energies via Colosso, with great records such as Abrasive Peace and Rebirth managing to quickly gather a following. On this new record, Max Tomé continues his exploration of themes such as human hate and how it and violence destroy entire cultures, once again employing the help of legendary drummer Dirk Verbeuren for those nasty and rapid-fire drum patterns. Musically speaking, it’s what you would expect from a Colosso record –, chugging guitar and bass riffs and precise drumming are intertwined with both clean and guttural voices, culminating in an ominous atmosphere that chokes your breath away. Nothing out of the ordinary for the most part, but Max Tomé does it so well in Colosso that we don’t mind it at all. [7.0]

Highlighted tracks: Hatred; Cleansing; Dias Piores Virão



Divide and Dissolve – Gas Lit (Invada Records)

We live in truly nightmarish times. The looming threat of white supremacy makes its presence felt more and more every single day of our lives through the constant persecution of indigenous people, minorities and trans folks, fruit of the systemic racism that is inherent of a socio-economical system that constantly favours the rich and undermines the poor. It’s at times like these that a group like Divide and Dissolve are more necessary than ever. On their third record, the multidimensional duo consisting of Takiaya Reed and Sylvie Nehill approach the aforementioned themes and struggles with instrumental music that is both absolutely heavy, eeriely beautiful and powerfully expressive, with crushing walls of sound composed of resonating and reverberating guitars, saxophones, drums and electronic effects taking prevalence all the way through. If there is one record you must listen to this month and this year, Gas Lit is that record. A tremendous work of art with a very powerful message that is already a strong contender for record of the year. [9.0]

Highlighted tracks: Oblique; Prove It; Denial; It’s Really Complicated; Mental Gymnastics; We Are Really Worried About You



Dread Sovereign – Alchemical Warfare (Metal Blade Records)

It had been a while since I last heard Alan Averill’s voice coming out of my speakers – three years in fact, when Primordial’s latest record came out. Now, the Irish singer is back with his doom metal side-project and gives us a third record that follows much of the same formula that was present in the band’s previous offerings. You got your Black Sabbath-style riffs and Averill’s commanding voice but even those things cannot save us from the drowned-out intros and the repetitiveness that is felt throughout the entire record. While this new offering might please the average follower of Dread Sovereign – and perhaps, even some of the less demanding doom metal fans might find some enjoyment in listening to it -, Alchemical Warfare offers little to no reason to really revisit the record after a couple of listens and feels much like a step back for a band that might need to regroup and find some fresh new ideas in the future. [5.0]

Highlighted tracks: Nature Is The Devil’s Church; Devil’s Bane



Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – The Helm of Sorrow (Sacred Bones)

You have to give it to Thou. Even after 15 years of constantly releasing new material, they still manage to surprise everyone and deliver new music that is both refreshing and exciting to hear. This time around, however, they had some help and were joined by the brilliant singer-songwriter Emma Ruth Rundle. The result of this collaboration was initially thought to just be last year’s May Our Chambers Be Full, but lo and behold, both Thou and Rundle decided that an amazing LP wasn’t enough and released a companion EP as well, called The Helm of Sorrow. Born from the recording sessions of the aforementioned LP, this new EP continues to expertly combine both Rundle’s blend of “post-rock meets folk rock” and Thou’s downtuned and doom-as-fuck sludge, with Rundle and Bryan Funck’s vocal interplay really amplifying the songs above and beyond the crushing walls of sound. Both are briefly joined by Emily McWilliams, who evokes Heathen and Inconsolable, in the eerily first moments of “Orphan Limbs”, and we even get the famous cover of The Cranberries’ “Hollywood” as a nice treat at the end – even if, on a personal note, covers are always something I can do without. Another great release by everyone involved and we can only hope that they do not stop here and bring us more collaborative releases in the future. [8.0]

Highlighted tracks: Orphan Limbs; Crone Dance



Eximperitus – Šahrartu (Willowtip Records)

Talk about long names, Eximperitus are infamous for having a pretty long one – which I will not write here in its entirety for the sake of this quick shot review, but I promise that is has a deeper meaning behind it. Digressions aside, this anonymous tech death group released a pretty neat, albeit flawed, debut record back in 2016 and are now back for round 2 of Egyptian and Sumerian inspired savagery and annihilation. And as soon as the first chords drop, one can already tell how good the years have been for this band, as this record feels much more polished and thought-out, without forgoing any of the chaotic density and complexity that emblazons their sound; the esoteric mysticism is still deeply engrained in their sound, as are the monolithic riffs, the overpowering blast beats and the murderous growls that sometimes feel like damning chants from beyond. Fans of all things mythological and brutal will definitely salivate with this astounding release. [8.0]

Highlighted tracks: Utpāda; Tahâdu; Anhûtu; Inqirad



Frozen Soul – Crypt of Ice (Century Media Records)

January was quite the frosty month, so it seemed appropriate that, over the course of the month, we should feel death’s cold embrace with a record dedicated to all things frozen – and I don’t mean the Disney movie. Relatively new in the scene, Frozen Soul have been making rounds and slowly garnering a following thanks to their 2019 demo, Encased in Ice. After a couple of split releases, the quintet decided it was time to release their long-awaited debut record, Crypt of Ice, which, as the name suggests, is not only chock-full of ice-related shenanigans, but is also a love letter to the old-school death metal traditions. And perhaps the latter is both its greatest strength and weakness. The undeniable devastation of that Bolt Thrower-style riffage is decidedly present, but the band relies and pays tribute to it so much, that it ultimately undermines their effort, as this record becomes a bit hard to stand out in a crowd filled with releases just like it and much better too. Nevertheless, it is an enjoyable record, at the very least during its first couple of spins. [6.5]

Highlighted tracks: Arctic Stronghold; Hand of Vengeance; Twist the Knife



Gatecreeper – An Unexpected Reality (Closed Casket Activities)

Here is quite the unexpected release that just appeared out of nowhere. Gatecreeper threw a surprise gift for everyone right at the start of the year – a new EP that clocks just under 18 minutes. It’s blindingly fast, nasty and rabid, with a clear influence set in the early works of bands such as Napalm Death and Entombed. Well, that is until we hit Side B and are confronted with a song that goes for the throat in a much slower and doomy way, which immediately brings Asphyx and Hooded Menace to mind. And while this new release may not necessarily be anything new for the band in question, it’s still worthy of your time, especially if you are already fond of Gatecreeper’s back catalogue. [7.0]

Highlighted tracks: Sick of Being Sober; Amputation; Depraved Not Deprived; Emptiness



Grima – Rotten Garden (Naturmacht Productions)

It isn’t just death metal that has had good releases this month and proof of that is Grima’s new opus. Hailing from Russia and formed by twin brothers Morbius and Vilhelm – both also work together in Second to Sun and Ultar -, Grima is a project that evokes nature and paganism through its harsh, calculated and incredibly atmospheric black metal sound. Cascading melodic riffs and mournful howls are coupled with eerie keys, organs and even accordions, creating a very ethereal and elegant ambience that is felt from beginning to end and leaves you craving for just a bit more. If you fancy a walk in the dead of night through the darkest of forests, then you might want to consider Rotten Garden as your midnight companion for those moments of pure introspection and revelation. [7.5]

Highlighted tracks: Cedar and Owls; Mourning Comes at Sunset; Rotten Garden



Here Lies Man – Ritual Divination (RidingEasy Records)

What if Black Sabbath played afrobeat? If that is a question you’ve asked yourself for long, then look no further for an answer. Formed by members of Antibalas, Here Lies Man pulls from heavy rock and psych rock and attempts an expansion of those sonorities beyond the genres’ own limitations. In their sophomore record, Ritual Divination, the group progresses the concept of playing the soundtrack to an imaginary film, one that takes us through the farther reaches of our own hallucinated mental desert. It is quite the nostalgic trip, if only a bit too long, that is filled with textured melodies, harmonizing solos, intricate rhythmic drum play and the distant voices of long-forgotten gods of barren wastelands. If you are a fan of expansive psych rock, then take some peyote and let your mind fly. At your own risk, of course. [7.0] 

Highlighted tracks: I Told You (You Shall Die); Underland; Run Away Children; Cutting Through The Tether



Julinko – No Destroyer (Dio Drone)

Amid the total closure of the entire world due to a global pandemic that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, the Italian singer-songwriter Julinko redirected her creative energies into the creation of a new EP, an existential flux entitled No Destroyer. Once again pulling from her wide range of influences – namely Jarboe, Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle -, Julinko brings an experimental and ethereal twist to the folk rock genre, with her ghostly voice haunting odd and distorted melodies, surrounding the listener and bringing a strange sense of calm yet uneasiness at the same time. At its core, this new EP feels like a continuation of Julinko’s last record, Néktar, albeit sounding more like a collection of B-sides and leftovers from the recording sessions of the aforementioned release – which makes it a miss more than hit in this case. Nevertheless, it’s a release that might please the fans of ethereal folk rock and Julinko’s music alike. [5.0]

Highlighted tracks: No Destroyer; The Ribbon



Malakhim – Theion (Iron Bonehead Productions)

As you can see by this point, January was a month of many a debut record, some more anticipated than others. One of those that certainly belongs to the former category is Theion, the debut record of Malakhim, a Swedish band comprised of members from Naglfar and Hellmasker. And if you think this is “yet another black metal band”, prepare to be mistaken, as this record is brimming with explosive drumming, as well as fast and blackened melodies that are complemented by powerful and combative howls that spout blasphemies in the name of an all-encompassing darkness. A nice debut from the Swedish black metallers that will satisfy any fan of the genre and leave them wanting for more. [7.0]

Highlighted tracks: There is a Beacon; Merciless Angel of Pestilence; Slither O Serpent



Mirzadeh – Sauna (Inverse Records)

Seven years had passed since we last heard of Mirzadeh, but at the height of their 20th Anniversary, they decided to spoil us with a new five-track EP, entitled Sauna. As the name suggests, this new release explores Finnish heritage, ancestry and history, and does so by calling forth the potency and grandeur of melodic black, pagan and dark metal. Overarching synths and melodious guitar riffs – and even some acoustic passages -, are the predominant feature here, with vocalist Mirox bellowing in a commanding fashion, as if he was guiding troops through the tundra and over frozen lakes. It’s nothing really fresh or new in the genre and unfortunately, most will feel compeled to regard this EP with indifference, especially considering the multitude of releases to come. However, if you’re a fan of Mirzadeh, you will most likely be content with listening to the band’s new EP and stand waiting for the band’s next offering. [6.0]

Highlighted tracks: When the Deep Silence Signs; Birth of the World



Of Thread & Mist – Static Hymns to No One (Gizeh Records)

Undeniably, Richard Knox is one of the most prolific musicians in today’s music scene. From A-Sun Amissa and Glissando to Shield Patterns and The Rustle Of The Stars, Knox has brought us music that is incredible diverse and creative throughout the years. Of Thread & Mist is his most recent venture, one that he brought to life in 2020 and is using to explore the deconstruction of music via tape loops, outdated 4-tracks and modified cassete players. From minute one, we get layers upon layers of orchestration and droning sounds that unfold, develop and decompose progressively and constantly throughout the two tracks that make up the debut record of this project. I am a sucker for ambient music that grips your attention from beginning to end and Static Hymns to No One is a perfect example on how to accomplish that goal in a proper way. One of the most interesting releases this month and this year, for sure. [9.0]

Highlighted tracks: Everything.



Portrayal Of Guilt – We Are Always Alone (Closed Casket Activities)

I first heard about Portrayal of Guilt when their tour with Deafheaven and Touché Amoré was first announced a couple of years ago. Immediately, I latched on to their debut record, Let Pain Be Your Guide, as well as their collection of EPs and splits, their mixture of screamo and post-hardcore intriguing me the more days passed. And ever since I caught them live during the aforementioned tour, I’ve been craving for more of their material. This past month of January, I got just what I wanted and oh boy, is their sophomore record absolutely massive. One of the main things I’ve always enjoyed about the sound of Portrayal of Guilt is that it can jump from bone-crushing riffs to melancholic harmonies and back again to monolithic soundscapes in a second, all at top speed and with an indelible spite and mercilessness that just pounds your body against the wall ceaselessly. And We Are Always Alone is exactly that – a raw barrage of jagged punches to the face that give you little room to breathe. These guys just keep getting better and better, and this new record is bound to become a classic for years to come. [9.0]

Highlighted tracks: A Tempting Pain; It’s Already Over; Garden of Despair; My Immolation; We Are Always Alone



The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need to See (Thrill Jockey)

Cacophonous, chaotic and unsettling are three of the many adjectives that can be used to describe the music of The Body. This duo, comprised of Chip King and Lee Buford, have been at the forefront of experimental noise music for a while now and one can very clearly understand why that is the case. Not only their body of work is impressive and vast – including some very neat collaborations with bands such as Thou, Full of Hell and Uniform -, they have the habit of constantly changing things around and breathing new life into their sound with each release. On I’ve Seen All I Need to See, history repeats itself, as the duo departs a bit from their usual recording style in an attempt to sound more like they do live, never refraining from adding oblivion-like distortion and the occasional wail that is drowned by the immensity of all the tumultuous sonorities. The band’s willingness to create the most apocalyptic and vicious sounds possible knows no bounds and on this record they have achieved that beautifully. There are no bands like The Body and this record is just one more for the pile that proves just that. [8.5]

Highlighted tracks: A Lament; Tied Up and Locked In; A Pain of Knowing; The City Is Shelled; The Handle The Blade

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