ALBUM REVIEW: Mammoth Salmon ‘Last Vestige Of Humanity’


MAMMOTH SALMON
‘Last Vestige Of Humanity’
Self-released, 2015
6/10

Calling it sludge would be to ignore the music’s rich, creative groove, calling it doom would dismiss the band’s ebullient nature, calling it stoner might suggest faster tempos than you actually get… So what shall we call it? Let’s just call it massive.

As the Oregon-based band’s ludicrous name suggests, this music is both redoubtable and elusive. Listening to Mammoth Salmon is like stripping naked and wrestling a rabid bear. It’s big, powerful, furry and has a deadly arsenal… but once you’ve done it, you feel an enormous sense of warm satisfaction.

Opening track ‘Ad Nauseam’ kicks things off with a deliriously groovy and pulverizing riff that grabs your throat and refuses to let go. Then ‘Acid Casualty’ continues in a very similar vein, but with a darker, Saint Vitus-inspired vibe.

The title track starts inauspiciously and, although it wakes up towards its stirring finale, the song fails to achieve any great momentum. From then onwards, the album starts to get more sparse and disjointed, requiring patience and perseverance from the listener.

‘Memoriam’ is the sound of a bloodthirsty ogre trampling a village but the beast runs out of puff before it can sink its teeth into any meat. Elsewhere, the middle section of ‘Shattered Existence’ sees the band in full swing, desperate and heavy, while ‘Believe Nothing’, as its name suggests, simply provides 10 minutes of futility and emptiness.

There is a stirring humanity and honesty to the songs, although that personality is sometimes drowned by fuzz, carefulness and duplication and as a result the songs can stagnate.

Paul Dudziak’s earthy vocals and fleshy guitar tones create an energetically anguished combination, but a lack of consistency in terms of songwriting means that ‘Last Vestige Of Humanity’ only intermittently drags itself out of the mire to make its voice heard.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Tombstones ‘Vargariis’

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TOMBSTONES
‘Vargariis’
Soulseller Records (Nov 2015)
7/10

Having largely abandoned the monstrous stoner grooves that made their previous album, ‘Red Skies And Dead Eyes’, such a potent release, Norwegian trio Tombstones have developed into an altogether more hostile and foreboding proposition over the last couple of years.

And while the artwork for the band’s fourth album is about as scary as an episode of Scooby-Doo, the ferocious, aching sludge behind it is enough to give anyone nightmares. The guitars are so heavy they will distort your day out of shape, and the riffs so slow and tortured that you will beg for mercy. Think Conan with a pinch of Kyuss.

Vocal duties are shared between two-thirds of this fuzzy Oslo trio – namely Bjørn-Viggo Godtland and Ole Christian Helstad – and their finely balanced delivery results in an impactful range of agonised rawness and emotional dexterity.

The difficulty that bands face when trying to capture a relentlessly bleak atmosphere on record is trying to avoid it getting stale or repetitive. Tombstones try to leap this potential pitfall in a number of ways; from creative songwriting to entering new stylistic territories.

Their flirtations with black metal, for example, are fleeting, but they at least help make sure that the listener is still paying attention. As for the songwriting, the results are mixed. Some of the songs (all of which lumber along for around nine minutes apiece) batter at the same locked door for too long, waiting for answers that do not come. Others are fascinating adventures into the darkness that ebb and flow like a great tide of tears.

Amidst the oppression and volume, there is scattered evidence of the melody and energy that characterised the band’s previous release. But ‘Vargariis’ is primarily about sonic violence and sour desperation. It’s not pretty, but it’s full of heart.

REVIEW: High Inquisitor Woe ‘Liquid Times’ (EP)

 

HIGH INQUISITOR WOE
‘Liquid Times’
Self-released (Nov 2015)
6/10

Inspired by the likes of Reverend Bizarre and a passion for epic, heavy music with clean vocals, this Belgian trio has created three tracks of solid, often compelling traditional doom metal.

Formed in early 2015, this is clearly a new band looking for its sound and personality – and as a result much of the music on display here is slightly muddled. Rarely do the various parts of the songs flow elegantly into each other, and between the sinister, gloomy riffs there are often awkward transitions or unnecessary tangents.

‘Liquid Times’ is let down by some shaky vocals, particularly towards the end of the opening song ‘Drink Her Blood, Black Serpent’ when singer Smalle van Suuz bursts into Experimental Mode – his falsetto is particularly, er, surprising.

However, when they do get it right, such as during the second half of ‘Neptune’s Trident’, this Belgian band sounds quite magnificent. Likewise, when the flamboyantly lengthy ‘Lady Saliva’ finally gets going, the listener is treated to some timeless doom metal merriment. Then things get a bit confused again, and the vocal stylings continue to digress.

At their most decisive, High Inquisitor Woe deliver some meaty, pounding misery – and when they fully spread their wings they should be an impressive sight to behold.

ALBUM REVIEW: Funeral Marmoori ‘The Deer Woman’

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FUNERAL MARMOORI
‘The Deer Woman’
Minotauro Records (Nov 2015)
8/10

Florence is perhaps Italy’s most beautiful city, a traditional epicentre of European art and culture. And now, it is home to some of the year’s finest doom metal, thanks to Funeral Marmoori and their fantastic second album ‘The Deer Woman’.

Threaded with warm synths and organic organs, ‘The Deer Woman’ is a multi-layered and effortlessly intricate doom metal offering, binding elements of big-riffing traditional doom with swirling, psychedelic keys that are ever-present without overpowering the guitar-based heaviness.

Three years after the band’s ‘Vol. 1’ debut, things have become even more dramatic and bold, and the band’s hard-hitting hymns of woe are delivered with impressive control, maturity and confidence. Imagine a gloomily grooving combination of Lord Vicar, Paul Chain and Black Sabbath’s ‘Who Are You?’ and you’re getting close to Funeral Marmoori’s strange sound.

Funeral Marmoori’s songwriting abilities are truly impressive. Tracks such as ‘The Hunter’ and ‘Onions’ (?!) come pretty close to being progressive doom metal classics – they twist and turn without ever abandoning the path of true doom.

In both his vocal delivery and guitar playing, Giulio Siena seems slightly restrained at times, as if unwilling to really ‘let rip’. There are a few moments where the album wanders off-track, but these are rare and brief, suggesting that there is even more to come from Florence’s latest great artists.

‘The Deer Woman’ is a real work of art; it’s the kind of album you can listen to repeatedly and never get bored. Italian doom metal at its most solid and inspiring.

ALBUM REVIEW: Wizard Eye ‘Wizard Eye’

 

WIZARD EYE
‘Wizard Eye’
Black Monk Records (Oct 2015)
7/10

If you love eyeball-quivering, psychedelic heaviness, it doesn’t get much better than Wizard Eye. Primitive, sharp and absorbing, the Philadelphia trio’s third album is a triumph of fuzzy fury.

Harking back to the lumbering rock behemoths of the 1970s and the stoner metal kings of the 1990s, there is a monstrous groove underpinning every moment of this self-titled release.

Opening track ‘Eye Of The Deep’ is a swirling, volcanic eruption of a song, fuzzy as a were-peach, heavy as a brain haemorrhage. It merges into ‘Flying/Falling’ which continues the ecstatic riff-driven slo-mo mayhem as well as introducing the exhausted, beautifully ragged vocals of Erik Caplan.

Then ‘Phase Return’ steamrollers your day like Ian Kilmister treading through tar. Oddly, the next track, ‘Graybeard’ is really similar – but it’s such a soul-numbing riff that you can understand why the band wanted to go again.

Other tracks tend to lose their early momentum, and in fact the album – recorded back in early 2014 – fades a little towards the end. The vocals are powerful but lack the degree of melody and versatility which might help to create a more textured emotional experience.

‘My Riposte Is Like Lightning’ changes the mood a little, adding a bit of pace and attitude, while ‘Nullarbor’ is a jangly, spiritual drifter. That aside, you shouldn’t expect anything experimental; songs such as ‘Thunderbird Divine’ add little to the pantheon of East Coast doom, but they are likely give you a considerable headache, and sometimes that’s plenty.

Pummeling your ear-holes like a mix of Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and an angry space hippo, Wizard Eye are masters of tripping the fuzz fantastic.

ALBUM REVIEW: Black Oath ‘To Below And Beyond’


BLACK OATH
’To Below And Beyond’
Doomentia/Elektroplasma, November 2015
7/10

Black Oath’s memorable 2011 debut album ‘The Third Aeon’ established a template of solid, Solitude Aeturnus-style epic doom metal that was massively enjoyable but perhaps lacked variety.

Since then, the Italian band has developed significantly, creating a peculiar blend of misery, versatility and originality. Less heavy and dense than their earlier work, the Milanese band’s third full-length release nevertheless finds them in a rich vein of creativity. Imagine a bristling combination of Hour Of 13, Ghost, Solitude Aeturnus and Trouble.

Black Oath have not moved away from their epic doom roots entirely, but today they approach their songwriting with a new, expansive approach that was beginning to appear on their 2013 album ‘Ov Qliphoth And Darkness’, and again the results are generally pleasing.

There are a few unwelcome gothic indulgences and cheesy moments – too much whispering for some listeners’ tastes – and some of the big choruses reveal a fleeting, unnerving pop sensibility.

The guitar tones are pretty lightweight, too, veering into rock territory – and the album would benefit greatly from turning up to 11 and getting some low-end rumble rather than focusing the mix so heavily on the (admittedly impressive) vocals.

But then, Black Oath prefer to refer themselves as playing “cursed rock musick” rather than doom metal or even doom rock, a conscious effort to disassociate their output from the powerful forces of sorrow that inspired their origins.

Mighty tracks such as ‘Healing Hands Of Time’, ‘Flesh To Gold’ and ‘To Below And Beyond (Ars Diaboli)’ – a song that does not in fact refer to a nasty medical condition – contain some outstanding melodious doom metal moments. Stylish, emotive, spectacular, but simply too lightweight… ‘To Below And Beyond’ is a curious, cursed album from a band that deserves respect for its undoubted creative enterprise.

ALBUM REVIEW: Pale Horseman ‘Bless The Destroyer’

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PALE HORSEMAN
‘Bless The Destroyer’
Bullet City Records, November 2015
5/10

The third album from this Chicago industrial sludge outfit has transient moments of excitement. Inspired by industrial heroes Godflesh and old-school death metal crushers such as Obituary, this is grim and gruesome end-of-the-world fare with occasional glimpses of inventiveness and personality.

‘Caverns Of The Templar’ is reminiscent of Nothingface-period Voivod, while the opening track ‘Clear The Throne’ features some killer key changes that send doomy shivers down your backbone and into the ground beneath your feet.

Elsewhere, some of the riffs feel perfunctory and colourless ‘Pineal Awakening’, for example, spends the best part of eight minutes going exactly nowhere. Even the meandering guitar solo only serves to add to the frustration of chewing on a song that seems half-cooked.

‘Bastard Child’ kicks off like it’s about to fill the void with fuzzy doom, but then simply creeps towards an inevitable, unfulfilling post-metal denouement, a quarter of an hour later (albeit with a few graceful harmonies along the way).

The band’s multiple-vocal style is always intriguing, even if the growled vocals are not always convincing. Despite the vocal creativity, ‘Bless The Destroyer’ generally feels quite one-dimensional – the band’s energy does not often come across in the recording and the moments of magic are too few and far between.

REVIEW: Year Of The Cobra ‘The Black Sun’ (EP)


YEAR OF THE COBRA
‘The Black Sun’
DHU Records/Devil’s Child Records
6/10

Bass, drums, angelic voice… Seattle doom duo Year Of The Cobra are like a noisily buzzing, lo-fi version of UK traditionalists Alunah. The two bands share a passion for big, bubbly riffs, drifting choruses and the mighty Sabbath. Singer Amy Tung Barrysmith has a delicate, intoxicating voice, akin to Alunah’s Sophie Day, and she controls it admirably in order to possess your mind.

‘White Wizard’, the opening track on this snappy debut EP, instantly grabs your attention with its rippling bass lines and imaginative but simple vocals. Following that, the EP’s title track is a pretty straightforward stoner rock dust-up, before ‘Wasteland’ treads quietly and patiently through a sparse musical landscape.

Smart songwriting keeps you on your toes, although the levels of energy and originality drop off as the EP progresses. Judged on the opening track alone, Year Of The Cobra offer an unconventional and exciting new version of doom rock that simultaneously dreams and snarls as it takes you on a ride into fantastical darkness. However, the two other songs are fairly low-key and less likely to linger in the memory. All together, ‘The Black Sun’ is the sound of hope and dejection combined.

Full-length coming Summer 2016 – can’t wait to see what this US duo will do next.

ALBUM REVIEW: Mammoth Storm ‘Fornjot’

MammothStormFornjot

MAMMOTH STORM
‘Fornjot’
Napalm Records, November 2015
8/10

Ivory traders have been braving inhospitable weather conditions lately. Climate change is causing the Arctic ice to melt, revealing the remains of woolly mammoths frozen since the Ice Age. Mammoth ivory is legal and sells for enormous prices, apparently, so the hardiest souls head into the blizzards of Northern Siberia to dig for their grim treasure.

If you’re not an international ivory merchant, however, fear not. There is another type of Mammoth Storm to get your pulse racing – this beautiful, thundering new doom oeuvre from Napalm Records.

Named after a giant king from Norse mythology, ‘Fornjot’ is the debut album from Sweden’s Mammoth Storm, the brainchild of Draconian guitarist Daniel Arvidsson. It is a big step forward compared to the band’s encouraging 2014 EP ‘Rites Of Ascension’, being more ambitious and exciting than the earlier work.

The words “progressive” and “drone” have been used to describe Mammoth Storm, but neither is particularly appropriate. This is essentially good old-fashioned, bone-crushing doom metal, backed by a strong concept. The guitar tones could uproot trees, Arvidsson’s bass sounds like it wants to kill someone, and his vocals fall somewhere between a fearsome snarl and a thoroughly depressed groan. Gentle hints of black metal in some of the delicate guitar work add to the expansive, frosty atmosphere, as do the fleeting keyboards.

The album is unrelentingly slow, dense and bleak but it still courses with musical energy, especially on the glorious ‘Vultures Prey’. Elsewhere, ‘Horns Of Jura’ is reminiscent of Clouds-era Tiamat, while the patience and elegance of the title track is stirring in its unhurried simplicity, allowing emotional drama to build as you slowly drown in the low-end onslaught.

There are a small handful of moments (notably on the lengthy closing track ‘Hekla’) when the sludgy, doom-plod becomes mundane, but these aberrations pass and you are transported back to a snowy land of myth and misery.

This is a classy, thoughtful and intelligently-wrought album from a doom metal band on top of its game. The woolly name might suggest colossal riffs and shuddering tones – and you get those by the bucketload – but there are many other treasures to be found in this Mammoth Storm.

ALBUM REVIEW: Phased ‘Aeon’

phased-aeon-pic

PHASED
‘Aeon’
Czar Of Bullets, November 2015
8/10

Creeping, Saint Vitus-style riffs, sludgy tones and drifting, spacey interludes prove to be a winning combination on Swiss band Phased’s latest album, ‘Aeon’.

These days the former stoner rock outfit prefer to keep it slow and downright miserable, rarely venturing beyond snail’s pace in their pursut of musical nirvana. Neither is there much evidence of founder Chris Sigdell’s noise-rock roots – this is more elegant, understated and heavy than the band’s previous recordings – although the commitment to psychedelic wizardry remains.

Phased have been referred to as the “Hawkwind of doom”, although for reasons unknown the band themselves call their music “motor doom”.

Sigdell’s confidently anguished vocals are as solid and steady as the shuddering chords of woe that his much-abused guitar strings emit. A second guitarist has been added since the album was recorded, so Phased will now pack an even meatier punch on the stages of Basel and beyond.

Phased are living proof that a good riff is pretty much all you need to create a compelling song. Bruising tracks such as the magnificent ‘Eternal Sleep’ and the oustanding ‘Seed Of Misery’ demonstrate the timeless power of a cool, simple doom metal riff when handled with maturity and a pinch of creativity.

Occasionally, and particularly on the track ‘Etched’, Phased head off on a long-distance space mission when perhaps a song might benefit more from staying focused and building atmosphere through smart writing rather than bleary-eyed repetition.

The album could handle a little more variety during its second half, but the pounding languor of Phased’s approach is, it must be said, delightful in its old-fashioned faithfulness. The Swiss band manages to stay true to the genre’s essential traits while adding its own flourishes to create a memorable album of fantastic spaced-out doom.

REVIEW: Return From The Grave ‘Three(p)’

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RETURN FROM THE GRAVE
‘Three(p)’
Argonauta Records. Nov 2015
7/10

A year on from their triumphant ‘Gates Of Nowhere’ album, this Italian stoner outfit returns with more otherworldly and highly-charged music. Their curiously-titled EP’s monstrous ten-minute opener ‘Timelessness’ touches the sky at times with its gigantic central riff and unique, huskily epic vocals. But the song abandons that initial momentum in favour of floating hypnosis during an extended mid-point break, and in truth the track feels less focused than some of the band’s previous output.

Second song ‘Soul’s Grime’ is the meat in the doom sandwich; a snarling, muscular stoner ride that is impossible not to love. Finally, ‘Sough’ demonstrates the band’s elegantly mature songwriting abilities and brings in an element of gloomy menace. When the song finally reaches its rumbling, grooving peak, after five minutes of building atmosphere, the echoes of Black Sabbath are plainly evident.

Overall, this EP is not as strong, tight and impactful as the 2014 full-length release. ‘Three(p)’ finds Return From The Grave seeking to explore new territories, but the process seems tentative in places, and the music can get momentarily lost amid endless possibilities. The band’s slightly changed line-up might take a little longer to fully settle before we see a return to the creative heights formerly achieved.

ALBUM REVIEW: Avatarium ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’

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AVATARIUM
‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’
Nuclear Blast, October 2015
8/10

The second album from Avatarium blends Candlemass-style doom metal with Rainbow-inspired hard rock and emotive female vocals to great effect. More rounded and elegant than its self-titled predecessor, ‘The Girl With The Dragon – sorry – Raven Mask’ is a bold, confident and sumptuous offering, with enough depth and texture to absorb the listener throughout its eight tracks.

‘The Girl With The Pearl – sorry – Raven Mask’ touches greatness in parts. ‘Pearls And Coffins’, for example, is a thundering, menacing monster, while the final track, ’The Master Thief’ and the enormous ‘The January Sea’ are pretty spectacular too. ‘Run Killer Run’ is an effective and effervescent slab of early Cathedral doom-groove, with maybe a hint of Trouble. It feels kind of wrong to describe doom pioneer Leif Edling as anything other than an innovator, but even when he and his crew are drawing inspiration from others who have gone before, they do it with natural style and power.

Elsewhere, the album settles into a more pedestrian pattern. ‘Ghostlight’ is a feminised, rockier version of good old Candlemass, but then it stops and stumbles off to become something less impressive, sucking upon the teat of classic Rainbow but not quite moulding the track it into the massive epic whole it had threatened to become. Fans who relished the jaunty, stop-start quirks of ‘Moonhorse’ from the debut release will undoubtedly love Avatarium’s new album, while those who appreciated the more graceful ‘Deep Well’ or ‘Bird Of Prey’ will find plenty to enjoy too.

Each band member’s technical skills are on display to be admired. Guitarist Marcus Jidell dons his Ritchie Blackmore hat and struts his stuff, while keyboard player Carl Westholm is given license to twiddle as many knobs as he can get his hands on, like some kind of gleeful 70s synth wizard. Jennie-Ann Smith’s fragile, ghostly vocals combine with pulsating organs and steel-edged guitar tones to create a rich, compelling soundscape.

This site makes no apology for its rose-tinted love affair with Candlemass founder Edling, such has been the enduring impact of the Swedish bass basher’s contribution to metal. ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ is a worthy addition to his mighty canon of work. In truth, there are few genuine surprises as this glorious prog-tinged doom opus unfolds, but, typically, you get lots of dark, searing riffs, regal choruses and thoroughbred quality.

ALBUM REVIEW: Chariot Throne ‘The Unholy Design’


CHARIOT THRONE
‘The Unholy Design’
Self-released, September 2015
7/10

Chariot Throne sound like they are about to burst from your speakers – the spectacular power of their imagination is plain for all to witness. They concoct a highly unique kind of doom rock; a curious mix of the gloomy and the avant grade.

Aside from the seemingly obligatory “creepy” audio samples from terrible B-movies that nobody has ever bothered to watch unless they’re showing off to their friends, this German quartet has a raw and natural ability to come up with really original and enjoyable stuff. This is their debut release, but the band sounds like it’s been in the doom-game for more that the mere four years they have clocked up.

From the classic doom riffage of the impressive ‘Descent’ to the blissful groove of ‘Far From The Sun’ to the heavenly expansiveness of ‘The Spirits’ Sanctuary’, Chariot Throne have put out an imperfect but very impressive album.

But at times the band’s performance on ‘The Unholy Design’ seems to be slightly restrained, somehow lacking in confidence or energy. The album’s impact is undermined by low-key production which stubbornly stops them from spreading their wings. If Manowar play on 10, Chariot Throne sound like they’re playing on 6.

While the guitars too often fade into the background, the rocky vocals are front and centre, sometimes a little exposed and lonely in the mix. Also, at just 37 minutes, the album flies by in flash, and perhaps Chariot Throne could settle into their songs with a little more patience and gravitas.

But none of these complaints can disguise the quality of the music – there is excellence aplenty to enjoy here.

ALBUM REVIEW: Il Vuoto ‘Weakness’


IL VUOTO
‘Weakness’
Satanarsa Records, August 2015
6/10

Matteo Gruppi’s one-man doom metal project from Piacenza in Northern Italy creates a mixed, malevolent noise that veers between beautiful and ugly, invigorating and repugnant. The subject matter of self-harm and depression may be desperate, but Il Vuoto injects it with a kind of abhorrent passion and inventiveness.

This is music designed to make you feel edgy and uncomfortable. The restless arrangements, piercing noises, gothic undercurrents, pianos and orchestral elements create a bitter cocktail of twisted funeral doom. Acidic psalms of suffering such as ‘The Harvest’ are nightmares become real, and often they are a challenge for the listener to endure.

At times, the music ascends to reach peaks of glorious distress and sorrowful melancholy, but elsewhere there is a sense of frustrating hesitancy or indulgence, as with the song ‘Sea Of Emptiness’. Gruppi’s croaking vocals can be slightly off-putting and add little to the album – rather, they can undermine the flow and effectiveness of the music and disrupt the atmosphere.

‘Weakness’ is a curious and memorable debut album that has a number of strengths, but this fledgling one-man project does not always succeed in capitalising on them fully or consistently.

ALBUM REVIEW: HellLight ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’


HELL-LIGHT
‘Journey Through Endless Storms’
Solitude Productions, September 2015
9/10

Brazil’s masters of misery have created a stunning album of slow, delicate funeral doom that reeks of quality and personality. The latest release from the Sao Paulo band, who started out back in 1996, drips with heartfelt emotion and majestic musicality.

This is 80 minutes of melody and sorrow, and the eight tracks on offer are consistently excellent. The songs are carefully constructed so ensure that they flow gracefully and build momentum. From the choral backing to the sharp-edged riffs that cut through the gloom, ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’ is effortlessly epic. Gentle keyboards are a constant and comforting companion amid the shadows.

With tracks such as ‘Distant Light That Fades’, HellLight can be reminiscent of Hamferd in their ability to combine light and dark, decorating their bleak, pummelling heaviness with sparkling flourishes of imagination.

There are a few brief occasions when it seems a song might plateau or drift away, but, at those moments, guitarist, singer and founding member Fabio de Paula always pulls it back from the precipice and, before you know it, you are transported by yet another glorious solo or soul-crushing riff. De Paula also intersperses his rumbling growl with soaring clean vocals, which are used sparingly and to maximum effect as they get your pulse racing.

Every song offers something new and intriguing, all tightly bound within the band’s signature sound. HellLight are able to pack a lot of ideas into their music while treading a careful path to ensure that the songs do not become jumbled or unfocused. This is a band that has been perfecting its art for 20 years, and all of that experience shows.

If the band’s 2013 album ‘No God Above, No Devil Below’ was impressive, then this is even better. Mature and sophisticated – and often quietly adventurous – ‘Journey Through Endless Storms’ is an album of rare depth and an understated masterwork of melodic doom.

REVIEW: Ex People ‘Loss’ (EP)


EX PEOPLE
‘Loss’
Released: May 2015
8/10

Throw the Melvins, L7 and Alunah into a food mixer and then gulp down the delicious results. Ex People’s elegant mix of electronic noise and waspish, sludgy riffs is brilliantly purposeful and thoughtful.

If listening to fellow Brits Alunah is like hugging a mushroom while wearing a velvet cape, then the Ex People experience is akin to gnawing the rust from a long-abandoned office chair while drinking rum. The three-track debut EP from these lo-fi Londoners is simple, nasty and bleak – and yet clearly lovingly assembled. It is understated and accessible without ever relinquishing its stark originality.

A slow, relentless groove underpins the band’s fresh and modern take on doom metal. Gorgeous female vocals, replete with engaging lyrics and loveable choruses, drift over the top of fuzzy guitars that corkscrew into your brain, never more so than on the opening track ‘The Erlenmeyer Flask’ (everyone’s favourite flask, right?).

Middle child of the trio ‘Jersey Devil’ sounds like early Sinead O’Connor doing the nasty with The Obsessed, with a dandruff-like sprinkling of Nirvana at their heaviest and most dejected. The song drifts off a bit towards the end, while the vocals lose some of their earlier authority, but this remains some cool and fascinating stuff. Finally, ‘Pilot’ sounds the most “occult” of the three songs, initially pretty repetitive but hypnotising and developing into a curiously satisfying dirge.

This EP is a gut-busting kangaroo kick of lucid, expressive and effortlessly effective new doom. Hopefully, Ex People retain their blissfully unsullied candour during a long and miserable career.

REVIEW: Grey Skies Fallen ‘Earthwalker’ (promo)


GREY SKIES FALLEN
‘Earthwalker’
July 2015
7/10

The long-established New York doom outfit have provided this free, two-track download as a teaser before the release of a new album later in the year. Recording was started in September 2014, but a fire at NY’s Audio Playground halted production for a while. It’s definitely been worth the wait.

The title track is a marvellous example of twisted prog-doom, providing a gloomily intriguing platform for the keyboard-tickling skills of Craig Rossi. Thanks to his fancy swooshing, as well as an epic vocal performance, this bold and intense song becomes a potent mix of Amorphis, Candlemass and slithering Asphyx-style death.

The second track is a little more hit-and-miss, lacking the focus and power of its partner in slime. But this little teaser features some intoxicating stuff, suggesting that the next album from these grizzled US misery veterans should be a blast.

ALBUM REVIEW: Carma ‘Carma’


CARMA
‘Carma’
Labyrinth / Altare Productions, October 2015
7/10

Carma – hailing from Coimbra in Portugal – create a combination of prickly funeral doom and dark ambient atmospherics. Listening to this self-titled album is like crawling through cold mud and barbed wire towards a hidden destiny – suffering is all around and there’s unlikely to be a happy ending. Then again, if Carma believe in karma, then it’s probably all their own fault anyway.

Lyrically, the band focus on death, loss and other burdensome miseries, and while they are sung in native Portuguese, you do not need a dictionary to translate the crippling cries of pain.

Carma’s music is a mass of sweeping guitars, jangling echoes and slow agony, and the songs are sometimes graceful and fluent but elsewhere a little indecisive. One of the highlights is ‘Feto’, a song that treads patiently with regal poise and features some rewarding vocal creativity and a magnificent finale.

Perhaps best of all, however, is ‘Lamento’, which is based upon movements from Edvard Grieg’s ‘Peer Gynt’, principally the mournful ‘Ase’s Death’. While Carma’s doom metal version does not come close to mirroring the vast emotional drama of the original composition, it is quite an accomplishment to turn the classical dirge into something potent and fascinating. The band have not breathed new life into Grieg’s masterpiece – maybe they have breathed new death into it. The major down side to the song is the oddly playful plucking interlude, reflecting ‘Solveig’s Song’, which interrupts the flow.

If you remove the atmospheric, synth-driven opening and closing tracks, as well as the intriguing Grieg ‘cover’, you are left with just three tracks. And while this trio of songs are great hymns of calamity, this paucity has the consequence of somehow making the band’s debut album feel more like an EP. The balance between dark ambience and raw doom metal is not quite right, but there is more than enough to admire and enjoy on this new release from Portugal’s Carma.

Album review: AHAB ‘The Boats Of The Glen Carrig’

AHAB cover

AHAB
‘The Boats Of The Glen Carrig’
Napalm Records, August 2015
8/10

Before Ahab, people thought of the sea as just an enormous puddle that got in the way of global commerce. But now, thanks to Germany’s masters of nautical funeral doom, it has become a big, soggy source of fascination and inspiration.

Less calculated than the band’s previous album (the slightly brilliant ‘The Giant’) and less suffocatingly heavy than past opuses such as ‘The Call Of The Wretched Sea’, the latest adventure from this endlessly seafaring band is a gently compelling collection of Siren’s songs.

‘TBOTGC’ is inspired by William Hope Hodgson’s novel of the same name, and revolves around fear, survival and strange monsters. It is a rich and rewarding album, a showcase for Ahab’s abilities to create funeral doom with a twist… and then another twist. In fact, it’s twistier than a giant squid in a dancing competition, veering between serenity and terror like a drunken sailor on the open water.

The songs grow and come alive – there is an energy and tenderness behind these slow, salty anthems, and a depth to the sounds, the feelings and the stories. Ebbing and flowing between monstrous riffs and frothy acoustic bits, and with growled vocals unleashed intermittently to great effect, Ahab create a believably scary atmosphere. From the almost-frantic power of ‘Red Foam’ (and its delightfully baffling video) to the crawling sorrow of ‘The Weedmen’, there is mystery and magic all around.

Like some kind of underwater Opeth, the German band have been making this kind of music for more than a decade, so in truth there aren’t many genuine surprises to be found on their latest album. But in spite of their longevity, Ahab remain unique in terms of their scope, ambition and quality.

ALBUM REVIEW: Witchsorrow ‘No Light, Only Fire’

WitchsorrowNLOFfinal

WITCHSORROW
‘No Light, Only Fire’
Candlelight Records, September 2015
9/10

“I’m not a very nice person. I don’t like people. I pretty much hate everything.” These are the inspiring words of Witchsorrow’s universe-despising frontman Necroskull, and his ever-so-slightly negative perspective oozes from the band’s magnificent new album like vomit from a sandwich.

This follow-up to 2012’s excellent ‘God Curse Us’ bursts into life like a flame-hoofed stallion bolting from the devil’s own stables, with a relatively uptempo Doom Metal romp – ‘There Is No Light, There Is Only Fire’ – that puts the focus firmly on the Metal. Thereafter, this gloomy UK trio gets back to more familiar territory, with elegantly plodding riffs and graceful, majestic choruses.

‘The Martyr’ is a fine example of gold standard doom – slow, simple and sublime. It sounds like a mouldy, British version of classic Saint Vitus, not only because of its intoxicating subtlety, melody and quality but also in the snarl and bite that is reminiscent of the LA doom legends. The gleeful guitar solos on ‘Made Of The Void’ and ‘Negative Utopia’ evoke none other than Dave Chandler himself in their impassioned misery. This is good stuff.

Witchsorrow have upped their game since their highly-acclaimed 2012 debut, incorporating greater energy and variety into their music while maintaining the shuddering heaviness that has reduced countless British venues to rubble in recent years.

The band’s increasing army of supporters will soon be earning a new kind of headache thanks to the instant hits to be found here. Another standout track, ‘To The Gallows’, even received some airplay on BBC Radio recently, suggesting that this understated, traditional doom metal outfit are getting some well-deserved attention.

Even as the songs effortlessly ebb and flow, there’s a raw, stark hopelessness pervading the album. It’s the kind of inspired, whole-hearted hopelessness that ensures Necroskull and his black-clad cohorts do not descend into stupefied apathy or depression. After all, it is in the deepest, darkest mines that the brightest diamonds are found. Witchsorrow’s ‘No Light, Only Fire’ is a gem of an album, and a monument to the finest traditions of doom metal.

https://www.facebook.com/witchsorrowdoom

ALBUM REVIEW: Angakok (Self-titled)


ANGAKOK
‘Angakok’
Satanath Records (June 2015)
6/10

This Belgian trio have developed their brand of drone-sludge in two directions simultaneously, evolving a curious, experimental side while also achieving intense levels of ferocity. It is a balancing act that they pull off brilliantly in places, with the ensuing chaos sounding like the gates of hell about to burst open. But elsewhere this self-titled debut album feels a little uncertain.

After a droning intro track, ‘Sacrifice’ hits like a fist of misery: at first, it is simple and extremely effective, but later on the song explodes into life with some spectacular drumming (a noteworthy aspect of the album) and a searing stylistic shift. It sounds like a deranged artist tearing apart his beloved masterpiece in a fit of emotional meltdown.

Next up is ‘Collapsing’, which begins at a similarly slow, plodding pace. But we know from the previous track that we should expect the unexpected, and so we wait for an emotional twist… which sadly does not appear. This track does not quite deliver the same impact, and it’s difficult not to feel a little let down.

‘Samsara’ gets the energy levels back up before descending into more drifting drone, and then a couple of strange, short songs flash by like ugly swallows promising summer. Keeping things more focused is the mighty ‘Trust My Scorn’, a wonderful slab of seething anguish that showcases the band at their best.

Angakok’s straightforward, minimalistic riffs are a plain canvas onto which these lords of Liege band adds broad brushstrokes of blood-red pain and suffering. Their debut album is a mix of formulaic, droning sludge, extended samples that sometimes make you feel like you’re listening to the music with the TV on at the same time, and raucous, stentorian distortion. The moments of wonder are scattered.

REVIEW: Hearserider ‘Demo Tape 2015’


HEARSERIDER
‘Demo Tape 2015’
(June 2015)
7/10

These Belgian fuzz pedlars emit some heavyweight, up-tempo stoner doom with frenzied eagerness. The two tracks on this enjoyable demo (‘Green Nebula’ and ‘Thora’) flow like unstoppable orange lava, destroying villages, towns and anyone fool enough to stand in their path.

Hearserider’s sludgy, raging stoner racket sounds like High On Fire in a food mixer. The gravel-chewing vocals are slightly monotone and would serve the songs much better if a touch of melody was added to create more light and shadow – but the raw energy and spirit is devastating.

It’s always great to come across a band with a name that makes you smile. And when they can follow the name up with music that has the power to blast your beard off, you’ve got a surefire recipe for success. So get on board this out-of-control corpse-wagon and take a wild ride into a new world of bustling Belgian doom.

ALBUM REVIEW: Witchhelm ‘Conjuring’


WITCHHELM
‘Conjuring’
Wyrmwood Records, May 2015
6/10

Take Pagan Altar, Cough, Pylon, Count Raven and Bathory and send them to Ohio, USA and this might be what you’d get. Another solo project from Sean Deth, the man behind Lucian The Wolfbearer and others, Witchhelm play solid, sinister riff-based doom metal that is unhurried, implacable and – sometimes – a little too straightforward.

With a name inspired by the video game Skyrim, and based around occult and horror themes, Witchhelm concoct some potent droning hymns of misery. The weird vocals will haunt your dreams for a while, the rumbling bass seems made of molten concrete and the guitars reach for the sewers as well as the skies, with acoustic interludes helping to create a broader atmosphere.

Powerful tracks such as ‘Spellbinder’ and ‘Phooka’ provide plenty of magical moments, but across the whole of the album there is perhaps not enough variety or versatility to make a consistently engaging impression. Perhaps that is because the echoing vocal effect becomes slightly predictable as the album progresses, or maybe it is because it is sometimes difficult to feel much passion shine through the neatly-managed guitar playing.

Whatever the reason, the debut album from Witchhelm only manages to conjure its dark spell intermittently – capturing your imagination in fits and starts even if it might not wholly win your heart.

ALBUM REVIEW: Plagueprayer ‘Forgotten Witchery’


PLAGUEPRAYER
‘Forgotten Witchery’
GSP Music, May 2015
7/10

Creepier than a zombie centipede and slower than an arthritic sloth, Plagueprayer is a “horror funeral doom” solo project by Aimeric, whose work as Abysmal Growls Of Despair is equally horrifying.

As a bleak, haunting and deeply personal examination of suffering, listening to this album is like reading the diary of a suicidal vampire – you know you shouldn’t do it, but the ghoulish temptation is way too strong to resist.

So welcome to 50+ minutes of glacial emptiness and desolation. The music – when it appears amidst the plaintive, sorrowful synths – is agonisingly slow and patient. And yet there is invention to be found, occasional diamonds in the darkness, where melody and beauty appear tantalisingly close before disappearing into gloom once more.

This soundtrack to depression is hardly rewarding. The delightfully dark keyboards offer hope, but time and again the misery overwhelms them, and life’s daily terror and torment engulfs us. At times, Plagueprayer’s guitar tones sound like they are crawling into your skull and might lie there eternally.

So check this out, but tread carefully.

ALBUM REVIEW: My Life’s Despair ‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’

MY LIFE’S DESPAIR
‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’
April 2015
6/10

‘Invoked With Passion And Pain’ is My Life’s Despair’s debut album, coming 21 years after the Gothic doom band from South California was conceived – initially as a solo project – by drummer Larshus. Three demos followed between 1995 and 2001, before an EP was released in 2009. After abandoning work on a troubled concept album, Larshus joined forces with friend N. Sanity (geddit???) to create something new.

Most of the songs on this long-awaited debut full-length are well balanced and expertly crafted, building momentum and drama with great patience and control. The album has a distinctive early 90s feel – an innocent and genuinely cathartic approach – while the influence of embryonic Tiamat is very apparent.

The album’s biggest issue, however, is that the DIY production leaves it sounding a little thin and flat, seriously reducing the atmospheric impact of the music. Songs such as ‘Patterns In The Chaos’ and ‘Apparitions Of The Sky’ would be truly spectacular with a bigger, richer sound. The cover of Tiamat’s brilliant ‘A Caress Of Stars’ is not only placed a little too early in the track list to sit comfortably, but also reminds us of the flawed sound quality – it is all too apparent what we’re missing.

My Life’s Despair incorporate synths, pianos and operatic female vocals to great effect and while they could be integrated more delicately in some places, they augment rather than dominate. One or two songs are of lesser quality, with the Paradise Lost-esque ‘She Said Forever’ feeling rather pedestrian in comparison to other tracks, and ‘Dream Dimension’ adding little but frustration, but elsewhere it is clear to see considerable potential.

ALBUM REVIEW: My Silent Wake ‘Damnatio Memoriae’

mysilentwake.jpg

MY SILENT WAKE
‘Damnatio Memoriae’
House Of Ashes, 2015
9/10

This is death-doom out of the top drawer – fantastic riffs and great melodies put together by people who know exactly how to get the best results out of a strong composition. You can’t beat experience, and My Silent Wake have been doing this for a decade.

Well, they’ve been doing something a bit like this, at least. Their last couple of releases have been acoustic / ambient affairs, but perhaps all of that instrumental tomfoolery reinvigorated the band’s passion for heaviness. This album is similar to 2013’s enjoyable ‘Silver Under Moonlight’ in that it is good old-fashioned death-doom metal, but ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ is bigger, bolder, brighter and more hefty. It’s packed with instant favourites, such as ‘Of Fury’, “And So It Comes To An End’ and ‘The Innocent’, which dig their formidable claws into the mush of your addled brain and consume you.

The album was recorded at Priory Studios, UK, with Esoteric’s Greg Chandler, who adds some guest vocals into the mix, while Martin Bowes’ charming synths add depth and atmosphere. Each song is packed with goodness, making each one a rich and rewarding experience in its own right. Together, the eight tracks combine to form a consistently impressive and cohesive offering.

Ian Arkley’s vocals are pretty feral, a perfect match for the lean and cruel riffs. At times he sounds like an undead version of Nick Holmes, and there is undoubtedly a classic, early 90s death-doom feel to the album, without ever sounding dated. In fact, Paradise Lost would probably be proud to call ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ their own – it’s considerably stronger then most of their own output in recent times.

‘Damnatio Memoriae’ is a masterful album that My Silent Wake should feel extremely proud of – it’s full to bursting with deathly, Gothic-hued brilliance and the quality never lets up. Far from silent, and more of a rebirth than a wake, this is My Silent Wake sounding better than ever.

My Silent Wake are running a Pledge Music crowdfunder to get the album out on vinyl:
http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/msw-damnatiomemoriae/pledgers

ALBUM REVIEW: Apothecary ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’


APOTHECARY
‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’
Self-released, 2015
5/10

This uneven five-song album sees sickly death-doom go head-to-head against Sabbathy traditional doom. The band’s wonderfully evocative name might suggest stoner or occult tendencies, but that would be misleading.

There is plenty of action lurking within ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’ – the band string together lots of great ideas but there is little sense of cohesion or direction. While this may be deliberate (if the album’s vague-sounding title is any kind of clue), the lack of a clear purpose or vision leaves the listener bereft and bewildered.

Amidst the soupy mix, malformed riffs lurk within awkward, disparate arrangements. Ugly, raw vocals give way to disharmonious clean singing. Rusty guitars tones fight with clanking drums. Sometimes it works well, but more often the songs struggle for air, each element battling against its neighbour.

The eleven-minute epic ‘Gamma Soul’, featuring a glorious opening, is the standout track on the album – its simplicity and grandeur demonstrate that Apothecary can build momentum within a song, even though it later wanders off into a slightly indulgent solo before altering course during its second half.

Apothecary were formed in 2012 in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA and, following a 2014 EP, this is their debut full-length release. There are numerous moments of hope and glory to be found on ‘Drifting Towards The Ancients’, such as the disturbing death-doom of ‘Into The Cauldron’, but overall too little consistency for the album to work as a whole.

ALBUM REVIEW: Nightslug ‘Loathe’


NIGHTSLUG
‘Loathe’
Broken Limbs / Dry Cough / Lost Pilgrim Records (June 2015)
7/10

Does life have to be so horrible? Can’t we all just smile and laugh and listen to David Guetta songs while pretending that the sun always shines??? No, we can’t. And Nightslug are here to remind us, in no uncertain terms, that everything in the universe is shit.

This German sludge trio might bear a name that’ll put a grin on your lips, but thereafter everything becomes serious. Intensely serious. ‘Loathe’ is heavier than an anvil sandwich; it’s heavier than Angela Merkel’s briefcase. This ferocious album is so abrasive that it’ll turn your ear holes into a raw, bloody mess and then urinate into your brain.

Amongst the seven, snarling tracks on offer are some lumbering, plague-ridden monstrosities (including the immense ‘Disease’), some faster-paced blasts of repulsive noise (for example, ‘Under A Bane’) and a few sparse phlegm-balls of weirdness (‘Pure’).

And then, abruptly, it’s all over, and you might find yourself staring at the wall, shaking, or vomiting into a bucket, disgusted with life, disgusted with yourself, and most of all disgusted with Nightslug for injecting their bile into your mind.

But remember, these German sludge bastards are doing you a favour. Thanks Nightslug!

ALBUM REVIEW: Sea Witch ‘The Blackened Sea’


SEA WITCH
‘The Blackened Sea’
Self-released (April 2015)
8/10

Sea Witch, a two-piece from Nova Scotia, Canada, create slow, atmospheric blackened doom of a decidedly wet persuasion. ‘The Blackened Sea’ is a droning, instrumental funeral procession, a dark and terrifying voyage across an unfeeling ocean. This is the kind of music that blue whales listen when they are feeling particularly blue.

Sea Witch’s shuddering bass might reduce your house to rubble. It’s so heavy it makes the oceans quiver and jellyfish explode. Cymbals crash like mighty waves against immovable rocks, while tremolo picking adds a sinister sparkle and tension to the sheer weight of the riffs. And the lack of words serves to emphasise the vast loneliness of the ocean and keep safe its dark secrets. Only the occasional glimpse of an accordion offers any hint of humanity amid the soggy wilderness.

Suffice to say that Sea Witch’s songs are not overly complicated. But they are more subtle than simple, and almost always fascinating, which is quite an accomplishment given the pace at which they crawl. This Nova Scotia duo create a stunning soundscape, with tracks such as ‘Down With The Ship’ and ‘Call Of The Leviathan’ breathtaking in their calm desolation.

This is the third release from these master of the waves, and it’s a belter. There’s not a huge amount of nautical doom out there, with Ahab being perhaps the genre’s defining name, but these able seamen have certainly raised their flag, upped anchor and set sail for great doom metal dead ahead.

Abandon ship all ye who enter here!

ALBUM REVIEW: Demon Lung ‘A Dracula’

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DEMON LUNG
‘A Dracula’
Candlelight Records (June 2015)
8/10

You know how it is. You’re the Daughter of Satan, you fall in love, your lover dies, you kill some nuns, and then you destroy the world.

All in a day’s work for Demon Lung, whose new album ‘A Dracula’ is the gleeful retelling of a gruesome story inspired by the 1977 horror film Alucarda.

‘A Dracula’ is bigger, faster and more spectacular than its predecessor, the band’s excellent debut ‘The Hundredth Name’, and while it may not be a huge creative gamble for the Las Vegas quintet, it’s a step up in every department.

Clad in white gown and sorrowful expression, singer Shanda Frederick in undoubtedly the band’s focal point. She particularly enjoyed writing the lyrics for this album, and that relish oozes through in her performance.

Frederick’s voice sways and lilts with a delicately-controlled strength. It is at once tragic and snarling, dreamy and yet decisive. For all her gloomy power and vampiric passion, it would be great to hear even more variety from Frederick’s distinctive voice. She persists with a trademark slide at the end of almost every line, which becomes distracting.

On the song ‘Raped By The Serpent’, she demonstrates that when her vocals are more positive and invigorated, then the song can really come to life. Other standout tracks include ‘I Am Haunted’, which is a slow and patient triumph, and the gloriously understated epic ‘Gypsy Curse’.

Big, metallic riffs pummel and crash as the narrative proceeds to its striking conclusion, the guitars working in perfect partnership with Frederick’s Medusa-like charms.

Demon Lung draw upon a sludgy heaviness and apocalyptic drumming to create a thunderous, stirring sound. And yet some songs stubbornly refuse to burst into life, as was the case on the band’s previous album. These Nevada wizards prefer to downplay their own epicness in order to maintain a relentless state of tension.

‘A Dracula’ is consistently engaging and mesmerising work of creative misery from these stylish Las Vegas doomsayers.

REVIEW: Conclave ‘Breaking Ground’ (EP)


CONCLAVE
‘Breaking Ground’
Self-released (April 2015)
5/10

This three-strong American sludge crew deliver a bristling clash of punk attitude and stoner groove that does not always dovetail perfectly.

‘Breaking Ground’ is a three-song EP recorded on 8-track analog equipment, meaning it gets up close and personal enough to be able to smell its rotten breath.

And talking of lung power, the vocals on this EP are what lets it down. While the guitar tones will make you gasp and the riffs will make your internal organs quake, the vocals might leave you cold. Raw and spit-flecked, they lack the melody required to work in tandem with the stoner hooks.

There is not enough quality in the raging timbre – it is not sufficient to simply shout over the top of a decent riff and hope for the best. And there are plenty of great riffs on offers here, such as the one on ‘Footprints In Blood’, which sounds like a cross between Black Sabbath and a grumpy rottweiler that’s just had its favourite toy taken away.

Then, on ‘Lifetime’, the guitars swing and groove with élan, while the vocals holler – creating an uncomfortable dichotomy. Finally, the third track, ‘Walk The Earth (No Longer)’ rarely gets out of second gear.

Conclave manage to create music that is pulling itself apart. The green shoots of promise are certainly present in the form of killer riffs, but the band fails to capitalise on these, opting instead for raging self-destruction. It is possible to merge funky riffs and raging vocals, of course, but it hasn’t worked particularly well on ‘Breaking Ground’.

ALBUM REVIEW: Ambivalence ‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’

ambivalence_cover

AMBIVALENCE
‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’
Endless Desperation Productions (2015)
7/10

There is a wonderful innocence and even naivety to the death-doom stylings of long-defunct Australians Ambivalence. Imagine an earnest and enthusiastic combination of early Amorphis, Candlemass and Skyclad, with unexpected bits of Bolt Thrower and Opeth thrown in. Sounds too good to be true? Well, almost. Unsurprisingly, things get a little jumbled and distracting, but more importantly, this album – released for the first time since it was recorded back in 1998 – is a huge amount of fun.

Angelic soprano vocals burst like sunlight from between the grey clouds, fiddles jump out from behind trees, synths creep in from hidden places… creating an intriguing and often very rewarding doom metal sound. An uneven mix makes it sound like some bits are made from Lego, but more often than not, the band’s energy and power is able to break through and the musical mash-up works well.

Songs tend to be fairly short and sometimes feel slightly rushed, as if arranged in a food blender. But while the album may be riddled with mistakes and misjudgements, to err is human – and Ambivalence’s unrefined humanity is a very welcome addition into the modern, sanitised metal industry.

Ambivalence had discarded their early black metal tendencies by the time they recorded this album (and the 1997 four-track demo that is also included in this stylish package from Endless Desperation Productions). Unable to get a distribution deal, the Aussie band split up in 1998, but there is certainly enough evidence on ‘A Land Of Myth & Magic’ to suggest that if they had carried on they could’ve created something special.

In this uncovered little treasure, we get a fascinating glimpse into the 1990s death-doom vibe and a great reminder of a band that lived only briefly but squeezed a lot in while they had a chance.

ALBUM REVIEW: Black Forest ‘Sadness’

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BLACK FOREST
‘Sadness’
Endless Desperation Productions (2015)
8/10

With a sound and style that harks back to the formative days of death-doom metal, Black Forest were once known as the Russian version of My Dying Bride. Callow youths when this album was first recorded back in 2000, there is plenty of muscle, menace and misery to be found within their dramatic and melodic music.

‘Sadness’ is a marriage of melancholic pianos, weeping violins, wailing guitars and low growls in the grand tradition of British masters such as Anathema and MDB. Poor production quality on the original recording led to delays, until a reworked version that the band was happier with was finally released. Though numerous imperfections remained, the album was very well received in the local Russian market.

Black Forest then split up, with some members preferring to switch to the more popular death metal style, and the band’s huge potential was never fully realised. A decade and a half later, Endless Desperation Productions have brought Black Forest back from the dead with a nicely remastered version of the album.

‘Sadness’ is in places a flawed masterpiece, not only tapping into the black vein that began in the UK in the late 1980s but also adding their own sour and shuddering woe to the mix. A few clumsy moments aside, this is an elegant, fluent, well-paced procession of gloom, truly classic death-doom with plenty of unique touches. There area few awkward trip-ups, but nothing as cheesy as some of the stuff that My Dying Bride themselves have served up over the years.

Powerful tracks such as ‘Disappearing Pain’ have a timeless strength and energy rippling through their doomed verses. The production remains far from ideal, but it’s probably nothing you can’t live with. ‘Sadness’ may not have come out exactly as the band had originally intended, but Black Forest can look back on a mighty doom metal achievement with pride.

http://endless-desperation.ru/1-endless-desperation-prod-cds?sid=01121aa42543c5463b2b470d60a9c12b

REVIEW: Shrine Of The Serpent (Self-titled) (EP)


SHRINE OF THE SERPENT
‘Shrine Of The Serpent’
Materia Prima Records / Parasitic Records (April 2015)
8/10

Can you imagine Entombed playing Solitude Aeturnus songs? Well, imagine no longer, because Shrine Of The Serpent have made the theory a beautiful reality. Hailing from Oregon, USA, this misery-loving trio have unveiled a high-quality debut that will appeal to fans of the guttural as well as the epic.

This three-track, 30-minute EP will carve you up while it caresses you. Its atmospheric death-doom marries glowering menace and rasping growls with heartfelt eloquence and grace. Trudging along at a respectable pace, Shrine Of The Serpent choose emotional maturity over the pursuit of extremity – this music is heavy without trying to destroy your skull, it is evil without resorting to cliche, and it’s lachrymose without melodrama.

Featuring members of Aldebaran, Tenspeed Warlock and Roanoake, Shrine Of The Serpent are undoubtedly well-versed in the ways of doom, from the filthy to the grandiose. There is a bit of a tug-of-war between these two opposing elements throughout the EP, as if the band is yet to settle on its preferred direction. That said, they pull it off with impressive ease, wrapping you in their world of hurt and holding tight.

https://www.facebook.com/ShrineoftheSerpent/timeline?ref=page_internal

ALBUM REVIEW: Wooden Stake ‘A Feast Of Virgin Souls’


WOODEN STAKE
‘A Feast Of Virgin Souls’
Razorback Records (March 2015)
7/10

The Kentucky duo of Vanessa Nocera (vocals, bass and label owner) and Willie Wardlaw (guitars, drums) have concocted a spectacular vampire-doom epic that brings together elements of King Diamond (musically and in terms of storytelling) and Candlemass – before pouring a huge vat of blood over everything.

This gloriously forthright concept album is inspired by the story of Countess Bathory (who famously bathed in the red stuff while she was busy inventing black metal, or something) and tells the tale of two female vampires battling against a possessed butcher. The tale picks up where the last song from Wooden Stake’s debut album left off, which is a pleasing bit of continuity, especially considering that Wardlaw has joined up since that 2012 release and has written most of the material on offer here.

Talking of black metal, Nocera adopts a demonic, blackened style in addition to her bombastic clean singing, adding a depth and more than a degree of horror to the album. Her fantastic vocal range is one of the band’s defining features, and helps to flip the story between sections and moods.

If there is a complaint (and there’s always a complaint) it’s that the songs have a tendency to rush past the best bits! This means that while all of the ten tracks have plenty of hard-hitting riffs and musical dexterity, it can be difficult to pinpoint each song’s distinct personality within the overall body of the narrative.

With highlights including ‘Cross-Scalded Flesh’ – a masterful demonstration of the band’s talent and artistic ambition – and the instantly loveable title track, this album provides 40-plus minutes of silk-lined, dark doom with plenty of grim charisma, NWOBHM power-play and snarling, blood-soaked fury throughout.

https://www.facebook.com/woodenstake

ALBUM REVIEW: Hogslayer ‘Defacer’

hogslayercover

HOGSLAYER
‘Defacer’
Undergroove Records, May 2015
8/10

‘Defacer’ is a mighty battering ram of an album – it’ll smash your day to pieces. Delightfully downtrodden and unrelentingly heavy, sludge maestros Hogslayer revel and writhe in their own personal hell (aka Cardiff) and their pain is our gain.

The songs on the band’s second full-length release are punchy, original, purposeful and scalpel-sharp. We’re not talking about Katy Perry-style catchiness here, but there is a degree of accessibility that allows ‘Defacer’ to burrow into the warm folds of your brain and make itself at home there. The tracks do not outstay their welcome and are crafted into neat, five-minute fireworks – without losing any of their ferocity.

Let’s face it, sludge can be a little tedious. In the wrong hands, this subtle art form can morph into a one-idea borefest of lifeless misery. In the hands of experts such as Hogslayer, though, sludge is an immensely powerful weapon. In fact, this Welsh quintet take the staples of this bone-crushing genre (long, drawn-out riffs that’d cripple a horny hippo and raw, raging vocals that take you to the darkest of dark places) and make it all seem kind of… fun.

Shuddering, reverb-bathed guitars obliterate everything in their path, while Lord Bastard’s vocals are sheer, manic despair and the production seems intent on destroying your speakers with bottom-end heaviness. Take Khanate and Eyehategod and sprinkle on some grey Welsh drizzle and this is the dire consequence. ‘Defacer’ should come with a health warning.

REVIEW: Hundred Headless Horsemen (Self-titled) (EP)


HUNDRED HEADLESS HORSEMEN
‘Hundred Headless Horsemen’
Self-released, April 2015
7/10

Written in a dark room during a 2014 Helsinki heatwave, Hundred Headless Horsemen (HHH)’s debut release is a sludgy, psychedelic and ragged exploration of Scandinavian gloom and despair. Packed with thundering death metal elements, including plenty of up-tempo sections, these four tracks capture a band in the heat of the moment – not only did they record everything together live, but HHH also insisted on no edits or overdubs, preferring to keep the original energy of the recording intact.

This EP represents the raw, unfiltered flow of the Finnish quartet’s combined subconscious. As a result, perhaps, there are a few occasions where the music departs on odd, unnecessary tangents, thereby losing its impetus, or switches between styles with little warning, one moment trudging a steaming swamp, the next launching into melodious hooks. But the sheer energy of the recording makes up for any such confusion, and you are left with HHH’s raging bedlam echoing in your ears.

https://www.facebook.com/hundredheadlesshorsemen

ALBUM REVIEW: Dopethrone ‘Hochelaga’

DOPETHRONE
‘Hochelaga’
Totem Cat Records (April 2015)
8/10

Montreal’s finest sludge machine has churned up another blast of swampy menace, creating a top-notch album packed with the kind of mind-chewing, heavyweight crust-blues that have become their trademark.

Gargantuan riffs, filled with stoner glee and booze-fuelled rage, are blasted out by guitars so distorted that they are barely guitars anymore. Singer Vincent roars and gurgles about drugs and demons like a man possessed / caught in possession.

Hailing from Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, one of Montreal’s poorest areas, Dopethrone pour raw grit and heart into their music. Their dirty, NOLA-esque doom groove and lumbering stoner riffs are immensely powerful.

Not merely Electric Wizard wannabes, they have proven repeatedly to be outstanding composers in their own right and this album is another consistent and convincing showcase for their great talents. ‘Hochelaga’ is the band’s fourth album in just six years – time flies when you’re having fun, and Dopethrone are clearly enjoying themselves.

There aren’t too many surprises along the way, but every song hits hard, elbowing its way past the previous one to force its pounding misery into your face. And they just keep coming. Listening to ‘Hochelaga’ is like drowning in maple syrup – delicious, inevitable, deadly.

https://www.facebook.com/dopethrone.mthell

ALBUM REVIEW: Saturndust (Self-titled)


SATURNDUST
‘Saturndust’
Helmet Lady Records (Summer 2015)
6/10

Every day, we puny humans face the empty quandary of existence. Saturndust reflect this daily toil through their brand of blazing space-doom. The Brazilian band’s debut album hits like an asteroid to the forehead – a slowly swirling mix of bone-snapping guitar tones, explosive drumming, spacey swooshes and sludgy, sorrow-infused riffs and solos. Jangling melodies sparkle briefly and die like fading stars in the darkness.

The album consists of six atmospheric explorations of distant celestial bodies, each representing humanity’s insignificance in the face of endless emptiness. This Sao Paulo crew find a great balance between bleak melancholy (echoing the peaceful vacuum of space / life) and cruel, carcass-pummeling riffage that slams you back to Earth with a thud.

This intergalactic mission has a tendency to drift off-course occasionally, such as on the track ‘Hyperion’ which opens with all the fury of a Cape Canaveral launch but then fades away into a kind of psychedelic oblivion. Other passages feel slightly disordered and uncertain. Meanwhile, the intonation of the rough-hewn and agonised vocals can be slightly distracting in places.

‘Saturndust’ is a heavy and compelling album of raw, space-themed misery that sets out to take you on a journey to somewhere spectacular…. but this is no fun family holiday. Strap yourself in and enjoy the intergalactic flight.

https://www.facebook.com/saturndustofficial/app_204974879526524

REVIEW: Kroh ‘Precious Bones’ (EP)


KROH
‘Precious Bones’
Self-released, March 2015
7/10

Kroh are like a Brummie version of Avatarium – female-fronted doom rock with a taste for big, regal riffs and shifting dynamics. Add in a bit of Alunah-style British thunder and you have the makings of some deeply enjoyable stuff.

Kroh started out in 2011, but fell apart in 2012. That’s until original founder Paul Kenney got together with ex-Moghul drummer Tom Woods and ex-Mistress bass player Darren Donovan in late 2014 to resuscitate the old Kroh songs and write some new, doomier material.

So here we are: two tracks, one old and rumbling (‘Heaving Earth’) and one new and snarling (‘Precious Bones’). Both songs show that the band is back on track, with the line-up enhanced by the addition of 20-year-old Polish singer Oliwia Sobieszek, whose gloomy tones and melodies add a hint of witchery to the doomy brew.

https://www.facebook.com/XKrohX

ALBUM REVIEW: Doomraiser ‘Reverse’

COVER

DOOMRAISER
‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’
BloodRock Records
(Released: January 2015)
8/10

Doomraiser have brought all of their considerable experience and craftsmanship to bear on their fantastic fourth full-length release. This is melody and muscle from Italy’s Eternal City and the band, who have been in existence for more than a decade, successfully combine excellent epic doom with good old metal chugging and more aggressive elements.

It’s an updated and sinister version of Solitude Aeturnus or early Paradise Lost – modern, mean and free of nostalgia. With its bombastic synths and thundering crescendos, ‘Reverse (Passaggio Inverso)’ is unapologetically epic and powerful, but yet the music remains grounded and honest, a fistful of worldly suffering. Doomraiser create a sometimes brilliant balance of oh-my-god-we’re-all-gonna-die, and what-the-hell-we’re-all-gonna-die – bold magnificence in the face of desolation.

One or two of the songs are slightly longer than they probably need to be, and perhaps wear a little thin as they plod on. But generally this is an impressively consistent album that’s packed with top-quality doom riffs and stunning vocal melodies. Singer Nicola ‘Cynar’ Rossi (male) expertly balances rough-edged verses with soaring, cathartic choruses. On a couple of occasions, in their grizzliest moments, Doomraiser begin to veer towards rumbling death-doom, but they always pull back before becoming genuinely ferocious, preferring the more thoughtful, melancholic atmospheres afforded by the epic style.

‘Mirror Of Pain’ is one of the standout tracks, with its chugging riffs, colossal chorus and irresistible, miserable groove. ‘Dio Inverso’ blossoms into a towering giant of a song, while ‘In Winter’ is a slow, simple and spectacular doom opus. Mixed and mastered by Billy Anderson, ‘Reverse’ is an album of quality, power and charm from a band that is the master of its art. Anyone who thought epic doom was a matter of history should pay heed to these Italian maestros, who have one foot firmly planted in the glorious past and the other raised to kick you in the face. Enjoy the suffering.

https://www.facebook.com/doomraiser

REVIEW: The Munsens ‘Weight Of Night’ EP

Munsens

THE MUNSENS
‘Weight Of Night’
Self-released: December 2014
6/10

The first thing you notice about The Munsens is that they are called The Munsens. The band’s name derives from a term used in the movie ‘Kingpin’ to describe natural-born losers. Inspired by some friends who had appropriated the daftness for their own daily usage, this US three-piece decided that the term fitted their own lives of skating and jamming.

The second thing you notice about The Munsens is that they create a sound akin to Electric Wizard or Sleep – ie. a sound so heavy, dense and filthy that your entire skeleton turns to pulp the instant they plug in. Listening to this three-track EP is like being trapped at the bottom of a mighty waterfall as a deafening torrent crashes around you, pinning you within the grip of its undercurrent.

The three songs on offer are slow and murky, trundling patiently, and their incessant pummelling is adorned with occasional melody and a fleeting stoner vibe. ‘The Hunt’, for example, is a bestial and modern version of early Sabbath that relies on sledgehammer repetition rather than sublime skill, but towards the end a compelling groove breaks out. Similarly, the song ‘Slave’ begins in a relatively buoyant mood before descending into a lachrymose plod.

The mournful, raw vocals may not be especially distinctive, but they are laced with passion. And that desire is also seen in the band’s willingness to tour and build their audience, happy to share their delightfully unpleasant sound with anyone fool enough to risk their own wellbeing.

But while the higher-tempo sections add energy, ultimately this EP is a bit too simplistic to stamp much authority on your brain. B-movie samples aside, there is little in the way of depth or versatility on display; but for sheer, magnificent, blistering power, few can match The Munsens’ shuddering tones.

https://www.facebook.com/themunsens/timeline?ref=page_internal

REVIEW: Viajando ‘Counting Days’ EP

viajando

VIAJANDO
‘Counting Days’ EP
Self-released, 31 March 2015
7/10

Viajando’s ‘Counting Days’ EP is an enjoyable blast of stoner merriment. Each of the six songs on offer is a four-minute dose of guitar-led heavy stoner rock, featuring traces of Mastodon, Alice In Chains, Voivod, Metal Church and Kyuss.

The US trio concoct big riffs and play them loud. The tones are fuzzy enough to tickle your toes, the bass thick as a brick. And even when the music begins to wander off or feel less than inspired, the high-quality vocals of Taylor A mask any potential drop-off and keep energy levels high.

The same band member is also responsible for the drumming, however, which in places can sound a little safe and pedestrian, while the chattering bass drum interferes with the overall experience of head-nodding happiness. Nothing that can’t be fixed on the next recording.

Occasionally, Viajando enter darker and more emotive musical territory, such as on the thunderously gloomy standout track ‘Rogue’. Meanwhile, the song ‘Dead Mask’ shows early promise and passion with its twisting and idiosyncratic uptempo stoner riff, but then rushes into an undeservedly cathartic chorus before drifting off into uncertainty.

Viajando fit a lot of different elements into their brief songs, all within a solid stoner framework. In fact, they sometimes rush onto the next thing before the previous thing has become fully formed. The positive side of this bumble-bee approach is that songs never pause long enough to even think about becoming dull, which makes ‘Counting Days’ a pretty invigorating experience.

https://www.facebook.com/VIAJANDOBAND

ALBUM REVIEW: Acid King ‘Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’

Acid King art

ACID KING
‘Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’
Svart Records
(Out on: 17 April 2015)
9/10

Ten long years after the release of ‘Acid King III’ this influential doom behemoth is finally back and better than ever. They may not have found time to get back in the studio over the last decade, but, led as ever by singer/guitarist Lori S, the San Francisco-based band remain fiercely committed to doing things their own way.

Inspired by the book ‘Say You Love Satan’ (about the acidic Ricky Kasso), Acid King formed way back in 1993, and immediately began emitting breathtaking heaviness. In 2015, they have added a few more layers to their bone-crushing sound; still heavy as a planet, but elegantly textured. “I wanted to add more depth,” says Lori. “It was important that we didn’t write the same record over and over again. This is a little moodier.”

“A little moodier” is something of an understatement. Written in 2013, these songs are expansive and emotional. They weave and flow like a mighty river, with smaller tributaries bringing new colours and debris into the swirling dark current. One of the doom scene’s true originals, Acid King are still dong the business, and their ability to remain fresh and original with the framework of slow ‘n’ heavy music is extraordinary.

Not many bands could pull off ‘Silent Pictures’, for example. With its droning monotony, this song could drown lesser talents, but such is Acid King’s charisma that it is utterly absorbing throughout its nine-minute lifespan. The same is true of ‘Red River’, a heavenly trudge… and in fact of pretty much every minute on this fantastic album.

The band’s charisma, which has remained constant throughout various changes of bass player down the years, is based on a potent musical chemistry. It’s inspired by Lori’s ridiculously awesome music and tones, bolstered by Joey Osbourne’s enthralling drum work and underpinned by Mark Lamb’s explosive bass. All of the instruments bustle and hum with energy, and they’re clear and alive in the mix (which should always be the case on any album, but frequently isn’t).

Acid King’s riffs are beautiful, a class apart. And they are brought to life by Lori’s bold, hypnotic vocal melodies. At times, it’s a perfect mix. It’s been ten years since the last album, but ‘Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere’ is so good that it’s made the long wait worthwhile.

https://www.facebook.com/AcidkingSF/timeline?ref=page_internal

http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/

ALBUM REVIEW: Diesel King ‘Concrete Burial’

diesel king

DIESEL KING
‘Concrete Burial’
When Planets Collide
(Released: February 2015)
7/10

British hardcore-death-sludge heavyweights Diesel King will drown you in decibels. Their full-length debut is loud, abrasive and lots of fun. If “full-length” is even an accurate description. The entire album last for less than 30 minutes, meaning an average song length of around three minutes. Not exactly stereotypical sludge, then. In fact, most sludge bands write riffs that last longer than a whole Diesel King song. Rather, this filthy five-piece play a kind of slow, sludgy death metal interspersed with rabid fast bits. ‘Concrete Burial’ is an extended heart attack, a blur of pain and palpitations.

Throughout this brief blast of doomed bedlam, there are moments of almost-buried groove as well as echoes of the mighty Entombed. Lacking the variety and cutting edge of that great Swedish band, it would not be quite right to christen Diesel King as sludge’n’roll pioneers, but they certainly do things their own way. And while their repertoire is not one of elegant sophistication, they make up for that with low-end madness that’ll turn your bones to jelly, while Mark O’Regan’s wild-eyed, vomiting growl might make you lose hope completely.

The title track is fantastically incessant, as if trying to strip every last drop of meat from your carcass, while songs like ‘Prone To Destroy’ and ‘Horror. Disgust’ are utterly enormous. There are one or two lesser moments, such as the underwhelming ‘Facesplitter’, while the numerous uptempo twists might put off some doom fans. But Diesel King have an aptitude for turning something plain and simple into something crushingly effective. Diesel King’s music is as heavy as a haemorrhage, as painful as a hammer blow to the brain – and their debut album might kill you.

https://www.facebook.com/Dieselkinguk/info?tab=page_info

ALBUM REVIEW: Morbid Evils ‘In Hate With The Burning World’

morbid evils cover

MORBID EVILS
‘In Hate With The Burning World’
Svart Records
Released: March 2015
7/10

Finnish sludge purveyors Morbid Evils hate everything. They hate the world. They hate sunshine. They hate melodies. They hate happiness. They hate each other. They hate you.

So far, so sludgy, right? You could even argue that ‘In Hate With The Burning World’ is the perfect sludge album, offering as it does absolutely no glimmer of hope, love or beauty. The only downside to such a spectacularly negative outlook, though, is that the band’s failure to allow even the narrowest shard of hope to shine through makes this relentlessly desolate, furious album seem slightly one-dimensional.

Whereas some sludge-trudgers, from Isis to Subrosa, are able to keep the listener guessing by offering elements of light that put the darkness into context, here you just know there is nothing to look forward. Nothing on the horizon, just more of the same.

The band even tell you as much: “Our aim is to create soundscapes that suck the listener into fiery sewers in which there is no hope for a future,” says Keijo Niinimaa (guitars/vocals). And in that sense, it’s mission accomplished; ‘In Hate With The Burning World’ is slow, raucous and agonised.

Morbid Evils commit heart and soul to this bleakest of world views, wilfully luxuriating in their own anguish. The levels of intensity and energy on this debut album are hugely impressive. There are also plenty of cruel, chugging riffs, such as on the powerfully bleak track ‘In Hate’ or the hideous ‘Pollute’, while the growled vocals are consistently raw and bloody.

The album’s six songs do not outstay their welcome (generally clocking in around the seven-minute mark), showing that Morbid Evils have a good understanding of how to hone their noise, making it survivable if not exactly enjoyable. Such dedication, care and expertise suggest that maybe these Finnish misery-mongers don’t hate everything after all.

What’s more, ‘In Hate With The Burning World’ is so self-consciously and absolutely uncommercial that it’s almost sure to be a winner for Svart Records. If you love music that is hopeless to the point of droning depravity, you’ll fall head over heels in hate with Morbid Evils.

http://svartrecords.com/shoppe/

https://www.facebook.com/MorbidEvils/timeline?ref=page_internal

REVIEW: Keeper / Sea Bastard (Split)

Keeper/SeaBastard

KEEPER / SEA BASTARD
‘777 / Astral Rebirth’ (Split)
Dry Cough Records
Released: January 2015
8/10

Two bands with differing approaches to sludge, but bound together in their exemplary devotion to the kind of relentless ferocity that makes your ears fall off and your brain implode.

Last year, Californians Keeper released a demo that got people talking, and here again they demonstrate why they are considered such an exciting prospect. ‘777’ is 14 minutes of desolate, shrieking horror. But not just any old horror, this is crafted and finely-honed horror.

Keeper have that rare gift: the ability to batter one chord into submission for an eternity and yet make it sound not only hypnotising but interesting and original. They maintain a high level of intensity, and it will be very interesting to watch these green shoots of misery grow over the next couple of years.

Sea Bastard, meanwhile, are stalwarts of the UK underground and deploy the kind of down-tuned sonic approach that can make a bong explode from three kilometres.

Sea Bastard are so heavy that when you listen to this song, the Earth temporarily adjusts its orbit around the Sun, to compensate for the additional weight. Not a band to worry overly about style, they prefer to obliterate everything in their path with substance, and it’s something they have become rather good at, as this latest composition attests.

The first new material from the band since the 2013 album ‘Scabrous’, this is all about shuddering guitars, long, slow riffs, and relentless anger. Well, not quite relentless. Just past the halfway mark on this 20-minute behemoth, Sea Bastard launch into a fast bit*** which adds a pinch of groove and is sure to get a pit swirling.

This is a great release from Dry Cough Records, showcasing some truly horrifying talent from either side of the Atlantic.

*** We’re not talking Dragonforce here…

https://www.facebook.com/DryCoughRecords