Sucker For Punishment: Dutch Lessons

On paper it looks like a fairly slow week for new releases, but actually the quality versus quantity ratio is better than average, with no fewer than three albums I heartily recommend. Enjoy and savor, because these kind of weeks don’t come along very often.
Astrophobos, Remnants of Forgotten Horrors (Triumvirate): Well, if this isn’t a nice little surprise. Not only does this Swedish band follow the melodic black metal examples of Dissection and Naglfar, but they do so with the kind of charisma and songwriting skill that metal fans demand of new bands but don’t see often enough. Astrophobos don’t overreach; they clearly know what they’re good at and stick to it. It’s derivative, but respectfully so, replete with dynamic songs that get their hooks in you from the get-go, such as “Sole Disruptor” and “Invocating the Void”. It’s an admirable debut that doesn’t deserve to be swept under the rug. Sample and purchase via Bandcamp. 

Fluisteraars, Dromers (Eisenwald): The first thing that hits you upon hearing the debut album (the title beams “dreamers”) by this Dutch black metal trio (the name means “whisperers”) is how commanding they sound when they settle into a groove. Hypnotic, grim, and slyly melodic, “De Doornen” echoes Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss in the way it just locks itself into a comfortable jam, but it’s refuses to come off as one-dimensional, surprising the listener by incorporating 3/4 melodies reminiscent of Agalloch near the end of the 16-minute track. Blastbeats and somber passages punctuate “Kuddedier”, while “Wortels Van Angst” carries along at a stately, measured pace, melancholic beauty underscoring the tortured growls. Yes, we’ve all heard this before, but the way this band creates engaging, dynamic material that honors various musical aspects of black metal, be it European or American in origin, is exceptional. Sample it via Bandcamp.

Primal Fear, Delivering The Black (Frontiers): Spend enough time listening to gaudy, spectacularly loopy Italian power metal, and you’ll come to appreciate the simpler pleasures of a band like Primal Fear even more. Ralph Scheepers and his veteran crew have come through with another straightforward album that once again neatly balances German power metal aesthetics with Judas Priest muscle, bolstered by some very good, surprisingly tasteful hooks, as on “When Death Comes Knocking”, “Alive and on Fire”, and “Rebel Faction”. In fact, this is the most consistent and genuinely fun album I’ve heard from these guys in a long time.

Also out this week:

Black Space Riders, D:REI (Cargo): The German band’s third full-length (drei, get it?) is a sprawling double album that would be tedious in less skilled hands. Instead, these guys have created a groovy and quirky heavy rock record that veers from Queens of the Stone Age worship (“Give Gravitation to the People”), to proto-doom, to straight-up psychedelic rock. There’s a ton of music to take in, but just enough eclecticism to keep it interesting.

Circle, SSEENNSSEESS (Ektro): Part of a multimedia collaboration with filmmaker Mika Taanila recorded in November of 2013, the great Finnish experimental band once again showcases how brilliant they are at dipping into multiple musical genres at once in a psychotic, vibrant performance, highlighted by the typically krautrocky “Terminal”. With this release, though, you can’t help but feel you’re only getting a fraction of the entire experience, because with the accompanying visuals this had to have been mind-blowing.

Demilich, 20th Adversary of Emptiness (Svart): The good folks at Svart have collected everything ever recorded by Finnish death metal weirdos Demilich and packaged it all in a very cool box set. Spanning from 1991 to 2006, it features loads of demo recordings, with the centerpiece being the 1993 album Nespithe, one of the strangest death metal albums you’ll ever hear, with some of the most comical yet oddly compelling burped vocals ever, fully and properly remastered to the band’s standards for the first time.

Pontiak, Innocence (Thrill Jockey): If you like strong vocal melodies with robust stoner riffs – Floor, Torche, that whole ilk – then the latest album by the prolific Virginia band of brothers will prove to be very rewarding. Unlike a lot of stoner bands, though, Ponitak are smart enough to mix it up a little tossing in a few ballads that range from hazily psychedelic to acoustic. Still, it’s the rockers that grab you, and “Surrounded By Diamonds”, “Ghosts”, and the Hawkwind-tinged “Beings of the Rarest” fit that bill perfectly.

Red Dragon Cartel, Red Dragon Cartel (Frontiers): Jake E. Lee was far too young to retire. The shredder who dominated the ‘80s on such records as Bark at the Moon, The Ultimate Sin, and Badlands (a huge selling album that has inexplicably been forgotten over the years) is back with a new band, playing heavy metal once again. With Kevin Churko, the most influential mainstream metal producer working today, overseeing the project, it’s an effective mix of old-school Sunset Strip swagger and modern hard rock polish. Loaded with cameos including Paul Di’Anno, Robin Zander, Maria Brink, and that angry fellow from Five Finger Death Punch, its weakest moments are the more eclectic musical directions (“Big Mouth”, featuring Brink, is unbearable), but overall this is a spirited, welcome return to form.

Sierra, Pslip (Retro Futurist): The first release on Kylesa’s new label, this debut album by the Kitchener, Ontario band caters to Kylesa’s audience, serving up some mildly catchy heavy rock that dips into sludge, psychedelic, and garage rock. Produced by Kylesa’s Philip Cope, the tone is fairly dry and the vocals are buried in the mix, and the band’s songwriting can meander at times, so overall it doesn’t measure up to other recent Canadian psychedelic rock albums by Chron Goblin and La Chinga, but a track like the instrumental “Psquigalogz” show it’s a promising start nevertheless.

Not metal, but worth checking out:

Warpaint, Warpaint (Rough Trade): The Los Angeles band first made waves with the entrancing debut The Fool in 2010, which came across as being very indebted to shoegaze greats Lush, but they’ve made an even bolder statement on the long, long-awaited follow-up. Produced by Flood, mixed by Nigel Godrich, and featuring stunning cover art by Chris Cunningham, there are huge names involved on this record, but these four ladies quickly prove how it’s all them. The chemistry between the musicians is on far better display than on The Fool, with bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg and drummer Stella Mozgawa creating a formidable, versatile rhythm section, while guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman don’t as much riff than fill in the blanks, adding texture and color. The end result is a bold, fluid album that takes its time getting under your skin, a sneakily sexy slow jam of an indie rock record. If you can, spring for the vinyl version of this one, it’s guaranteed to sound sensational.