Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Lord Mantis - Universal Death Church

Origin: USA
Label: Profound Lore Records
Release: November 22nd, 2019


I had initially found out about Lord Mantis when I was looking for other bands with Aamonael of Avichi, and for some reason I thought of them being his side project. It turns out he joined a bit later and only during the time of their previous release NTW, I realized. Lord Mantis have a bunch of known American musicians, like Ken Sorceron of Abigail Williams and latest Cobalt singer, Charlie Fell. The previous Indian drummer (R.I.P.) also played here at some point.

The band's distasteful nature always appealed to me, but to an extent of just enjoying this brand of blackened sludge and not more than that. All their material from this decade are top-notch, and guarantee an uncomfortable listen to people who are willing to step outside of their comfort zone when it comes to their preferences. The newest album Universal Death Church, is more metallic in the sound of the guitars and vocals, features infectious guitar work, is well-written and as filthy as before.

Not always does an album succeed in having memorable moments in every tune, and that's what happens with the contents of Universal Death Church. The elements of sludge, black metal, Lord Mantis-like grooves, distorted ambiance, all co-exist as if it's 2012 and we're back to Pervertor, but this time more monstrous. And if you get into it, hold tight for the first two tracks "Santa Fuerte" and "God's Animal", which might seem more simplistic than you would like, in case you are unaware of the band. The compositions get much more interesting by the third track "Qliphotic Alpha".

But even these aforementioned two, have the successful nuances that don't turn them into filler tracks. The vocals in Lord Mantis always reminded me of a faster version of Indian, and maybe this is even more apparent in Universal Death Church. The ups and downs the record takes with its tracks never drop it too low, yet the monumental tracks that are "Damocles Falls" and "Fleshworld", especially the closing "Hole", can never be in the same league as "Consciousness.exe" for example, which is just a solid piece.

That's the reason why Universal Death Church closes with its three most powerful compositions, not to mention the brilliant guest work on the saxophone by Bruce Lamont on the last track, something that can be picked up right away by ear. "Fleshworld" has some lines moving more into traditional black metal and what it achieves is wondrous and terrifying. I couldn't see their previous albums as a whole, but this, with all its small missteps, walks perfectly fine as a potent unit.

Lord Mantis have not changed a lot since they started and there is no need, especially when they have mastered their sound that good. There is nothing else one would ask from this project and Universal Death Church is definitely for the attention of all the fans. I will be listening to half the tracks from the album again and again for the near future, or maybe the whole of it just for the feels it provokes. Exceptionally good work from a talented band that hadn't done it until now, for me.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Schammasch - Hearts of No Light

Origin: Switzerland
Label: Prosthetic Records
Release: November 8th, 2019


Steadily growing in popularity for the last decade, Schammasch have in their discography two long-talked albums, especially Triangle from 2016, which received a bulky amount of media praise. The determined and ambitious nature of the band draws the attention of listeners outside black metal, and they have won a commendable piece of the scene with their music and evolution during the recent years. Speaking for myself, I was never engrossed to any of their previous material, yet it is an act well inside the radar.

The new work Hearts of No Light is an hour and seven minutes long tome, since they were not shy already from the previous album to create a lengthy release. While Triangle was a journey in three parts, Hearts of No Light has one composition significantly longer than the rest (the last track), which pushes its whole duration to that point. The production is clear and charges a powerful atmosphere, right from the introductory, soaring piano piece "Winds that Pierce the Silence". Then hits a ferocious moment in the record, which is the brilliant track "Ego Sum Omega".

All the malevolent guitar melodies, the shrieked vocals, the compositional mastery of the band, are unfolding and taking over. The musicianship is on point, delivering interesting and filthy riffs, building a certain, chaotic feeling that characterizes the rest of the album too, at least for the most part. Keyboards are kept in use throughout, over the different tunes. Schammasch's compelling sound and their not completely traditional palette makes them very interesting to listen to, as the record surely has some highlight moments all around.

Some experimentation is working like a charm in Hearts of No Light, like the connecting track "A Bridge Ablaze", where I especially like the use of the piano with a more modern percussion approach, something that would even fit in a darker than usual trip-hop band. On the other hand, there is a strange part in "I Burn Within You", with frantic vocals and unstable keyboards, which feels as if the listener has stepped into an aural wormhole and into a Carach Angren record. Thinking of the whole atmosphere that the rest of the album has built, I thought that segment was very much out of place, even though the second part of that song is at least solid.

Things get back in track with "A Paradigm of Beauty", which has plain clean vocals coming from a passionate hard rock / post-punk group of a different time. Schammasch are feeling free to jam a bit in this track and even going to more psychedelic rock ideas, before crushing down with heavier lines in "Katabasis". It's quite pleasant to listen to that, as well as the combination of elements from different background they are employing. The fifteen minute long ending track "Innermost, Lowermost Abyss" is almost ritualistic, and it could be classified as a long dark ambient outro to Hearts of No Light, also justifying the title of the album.

It makes perfect sense for part of the audience to have admiration for this band, and while listening to Hearts of No Light, it is by no means a mediocre record. It is a multi-layered and challenging release, yet for me it was not flawless. Some halting moments in "Qadmon's Heir" or "Rays Like Razors" were longer than needed, "I Burn Within You" was turbulent, but as a whole we are talking about a very solid album that grows and you and has a lot to explore. Schammasch have not disappointed, and that comes from someone who is not a wholehearted fan of the band.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Alcest - Spiritual Instinct

Origin: France
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release: October 25th, 2019


This is the situation of a band I have been following for more than ten years, which I first listened in 2007 with their debut full length, at a time when I wasn't aware of the existence of post-black metal or post-rock in general. Going back to their catalog, Alcest's first demo is the closest to black metal there is, but 2005's EP Le Secret clearly showed the direction the band would follow for the years to come. When Écailles de lune was released in 2010, I fell in love with it and still it is one of my favorite records of the decade.

Since then, I have kind of lost Alcest with their series of albums in the period of 2012 - 2016, which were legit but none of them completely thrilled me at any point. By considering Shelter the weakest point of the project, it was intuitively innocent to consider that they were taking a stance away from their harsher self and sticking more to their ethereal, post-rock sound. Kodama was good, and now the new age of the band puts them under the aegis of Nuclear Blast, maybe the biggest metal label in the world.

For these reasons, I entered Spiritual Instinct with ambiguity. There is not a big change I will hate an Alcest album, but falling into the pool of boredom in this kind of music is a daring challenge. The band's wondrous, delicate style is overwhelming, and the compositions have picked up a kind of intensity that I hadn't heard from them for many years now. Its flooding atmosphere is wonderful, emphasizing the strongest point of Alcest and their signal sound is rendered just amazing. 

While one would never characterize their material as dark, Spiritual Instinct definitely explores a gloomier side of the band but in a very discrete way. The shrieks are back, and how brilliant they are, adding a load of power to the otherwise top-notch clean vocals of Neige. The tracks themselves are vigorous, even containing some more vivid guitar lines I wouldn't think of hearing from Alcest. Heck, the album's first two tunes, "Les jardins de minuit" and "Protection", contain melodies of the best quality this band has offered for some time now.

As a band with a very personal sound, there is no point in comparing it with other post-black / blackgaze bands, but instead only with themselves. I believe they are now at a very good point musically, with Spiritual Instinct climbing high to a place among the best they have ever released. It has the lovable aesthetics, the compelling musicianship, as well as the memorable tunes. The use of vocals is excellent, the guitar work equally beautiful and brings elements of Alcest's vision together in total harmony. 

I can't choose one of the first three tracks on the album as my favorite from Spiritual Instinct, yet the second half of the record will stay in the loop as well for this year. The longest song "L'île des morts" reaches nine minutes in length and is quite powerful, while relatively simpler tracks like "Sapphire" or "Le miroir" give out a soothing feeling that makes you sit even more comfortably and listen to the record. The last moments of the self-titled track end the listen leaving an itch to the brain as if there's more to come, having the listener craving for some more music. Everything is so perfectly placed.

There has been a couple of years now that I had skipped Alcest from my listening sessions, but now they are back, barged into my playlist and staying there. It's nice for a band to achieve this, and bring an urge in you to pick them up again right where you left them. Spiritual Instinct is a definite success and could be right behind Écailles de lune for me, for its flawless flow and merit can't go unnoticed. It's the embodiment of what I admire in this specific band. Congratulations.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Novembers Doom - Nephilim Grove

Origin: United States
Label: Prophecy Productions
Release: November 1st, 2019


It's been a while since I sat down to listen to a Novembers Doom record, a band which I lost somewhere in 2009 after the engaging Into Night's Requiem Infernal, even though I occasionally run through pieces of their early discography. They were once of big admiration to me, daily listening to them along with early Swallow the Sun and trying to reach a conclusion on which group is the best. Of course, I appreciate both of them for different reasons, and these reasons are still floating with Novembers Doom latest, Nephilim Grove.

As a band that is used to write long albums, this one also holds something more than fifty minutes of duration, professionally produced to give it this spotless sound that corresponds just fine to the record's virtuality. Nephilim Grove has an abundance of melodic riffs, as well as parts of clean guitars, but it doesn't completely shy away from heavier moments and the usage of growls. In general, there are more clean vocal moments here than I remember Novembers Doom to have, but I was satisfied to listen to the whole range of Paul Kuhr's excellent vocals, a guy who I don't mind listening to all the time. It is a strong weapon that Novembers Doom have, and I don't have many vocalists of the "mellow" side of screaming that I like that much (Daniel Droste of Ahab is another example).

Of course, the lyrics are very easy to understand, which made me realize so unused to the concept of such clean vocals I am, when constantly listening to sharper black or death metal albums. Nephilim Grove is quite personal conceptually, in general narrating feelings of nostalgia and sadness after a loss, provoking a familiar negativity that fans should know about. The compositional structure is quite fluid, offering very entertaining guitar solos, switching between catchy choruses and a few more intense moments. I constantly felt like listening to some heavier Novembers Doom throughout the record though, because that's what I am as a person.

There's a slight usage of samples, and a few parts with keyboards, and I'm thankful they didn't let that blow out of proportion in the songs. One of the tracks that I would get back to after a few listens is "Black Light" for sure, exactly for its more brutal nature as was explained just before, where I got to listen some hard hitting with this singer's awesome growls. After that, the guitar work on "Still Wrath" is wonderful, and also the opening track "Petrichor" can be a good introduction to Nephilim Grove. At the same time, I was tempted to skip a couple of tunes just for some repetitive parts they had, mostly when the album turns too mild for my likes. 

Nephilim Grove closes with a beautiful track "The Obelus", and leaves the listener with good impressions on the condition of the band this year. Novembers Doom have had their own sound for a long time now and this is another record where they showcase interesting ideas within the doom / death metal sector, almost adding some gothic nuances this time. I can't tell if I would pick it among my favorites this year but it wasn't a disappointment by any means.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Sun Worship - Emanations of Desolation

Origin: Germany
Label: Vendetta Records
Release: October 18th, 2019


This German act had a hell of a start right from their beginning, since their first demo in 2011 featured two awesome tunes, while the EP that followed in 2013 is still one of my favorites from the current decade. Up until the debut Elder Giants in 2014, they were limited in self-titled releases, and they demonstrated a hefty brand of cold and distant black metal, based on dominating riffs. The first full length was a very convincing blow, where Sun Worship exercise their own sound in an excellent flow and haunting atmosphere, flirting with the electronics of early Burzum and at the same time, glorifying the power of their long compositions. It was one of the highlights of the year that gave justice to the potential of their first, rougher recordings. 

Fast forward to 2019, when a lot has changed for the band. They are now a duo, instead of having three members, and also their new record Emanations of Desolation is much longer than what one would expect. With Elder Giants and 2016’s Pale Dawn clocking up to around thirty-five minutes, this new work has double the amount of tracks and double the amount of duration too. Apparently, the shift in the line-up boosted the inspiration of the musicians, who are also altering the sound of the band into something new and different from what they have been doing since now. The tracks in Emanations of Desolation are harsher and do not indulge into this deep atmospheric frenzy Sun Worship was playing before. 

The difference can be felt clearly from the guitar lines of all of the tracks, but even more from the vocals, which are now clearer and more understandable compared to the older self of the band. This change has given out a rather organic record, which is pure in spirit and contains several memorable moments, with the structure of the compositions helping a lot to justify its duration. Sun Worship sound confident in Emanations of Desolation, and they are not afraid to use material that they could have easily used for more than one release. On a personal level, my excitement for the band has been slightly declining over the years, as I enjoyed Pale Dawn a bit less and now Emanations of Desolation, a bit less than before too. 

I am a big fan of Elder Giants and at the same time, the artistic steps they take are at least forward, yet I don’t think they have surpassed themselves with the new album, which has strong moments and a few more undistinguished parts too. A kind of clean vocals are used around (for example in “Void Devourer”, an otherwise solid number), which come out somewhat flat and don’t add up to the adjacent epicness of the music, while a couple of stale tracks hide away the good moments of the record. I loved the interlude “Pilgrimage” as well as the track following it, “Coronation”. “Void Devourer” is definitely well made, yet “Torch Reversed” and “Soul Harvester” are inferior to the aforementioned. 

Sun Worship close the album with a longer track, which also suffers from the same issue, as it consists of a few good parts and a few more dull ones. At first, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of Emanations of Desolation which made me question the notions behind it, yet after several listens I can see it is worth the listen from the fans. For me, apart from some aspects of it that I understand, I feel like it is a bit of a less alluring release compared to the wonderful previous albums, that doesn’t leave them completely off the hook for now. I don’t know if it is a coincidence, but I enjoyed about 50% of the material in the record, making me think that maybe they should have been pickier when deciding what would make the cut after all.