It’s another fairly light week this week – I doubt many Decibel readers will be salivating over the reissue of Def Leppard’s sorry 1996 album Slang – but most interestingly, there’s a good amount of music I actually like. Is it because I’m still a good six weeks away from my annual spring burnout? The fact that I’ve finally shaken the cobwebs from a draining week seeing Carcass and Obituary play a cruise ship? That I’ve been listening to a ridiculous amount of Freedom Call lately? Or maybe it’s because these brutal -20 degree days up here in Canada have been refreshingly sunny. Either way, I must’ve been in a good mood, because I’ve thoroughly enjoyed most of these records, save for that damned Van Canto atrocity. Go figure. Three albums especially stand out, so please, give them a listen, and better yet, buy them.
Mantar, Death By Burning (Svart): There’s not much to this German duo, as they play simple sludge jams atop rock ‘n’ roll grooves and the odd blastbeat-driven passage, but much like how the Melvins and High on Fire immediately draw listeners with that impeccable combination of primal intensity and wicked catchiness, this debut grabs you and doesn’t let go. While other like-minded bands would be too preoccupied with conveying that towering sense of power sludge demands, Mantar’s willingness to let the groove carry the song as much as the riff is a big reason why this record immediately sets itself apart from the rest. It’s formidable – just listen to closing track “March of the Crows” – but more than anything it’s fun, a welcome blast of adrenaline for a style that often forgets to have fun. Jeff Treppel premiered the video for “White Nights” on Monday. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Stilla, Ensamhetens Andar (Nordvis): Led by De Arma’s Andreas Petterson and backed up by three members of Bergraven, Stilla’s music centers on the more frigid aspect of black metal, drawing heavy inspiration from the Scandinavian environment. But while the traditional characteristics of black metal are easily identifiable on this second album, there’s a lot more going on, much more interesting little idiosyncrasies that make it stand out. A subtle post-rock element creeps in at times, while graceful progressive melodies, not unlike Opeth, wriggle their way into the songs, bringing just enough warmth to melt the ice a little. It’s not every day you hear a band put a unique twist on black metal orthodoxy anymore, but Stilla has done just that, creating something clever and creative yet completely true to the genre’s tenets.
Woods of Desolation, As the Stars (Northern Silence): For those who feel the “metalgaze” trend has flown too far outside the metal spectrum as of late, this latest album by the Australian project will satisfy immensely. Striking a much more even balance between extremity and pastoralism than Deafheaven’s bold yet frustrating Sunbather, and at 34 minutes much more economically written, it sticks to the formula set by Alcest’s Le Secret, and pulls it off immaculately. Guitarist and visionary D employs the odd reference to Mogwai here and there, utilizes crunching riffs sporadically, but for the most part this record is all about unearthing beauty within the black metal milieu. There are those who think black metal can only reflect ugliness and spew Satanic rhetoric, and while that’s totally valid, to hear skilled musicians turn that idea upside down and shed a little light and grace on an otherwise harsh sound can be just as rewarding. Simple pleasures on this album, but pleasures nonetheless.
Also out this week:
Drawers, Drawers (Kaotoxin): The French band is clearly following the lead of the Melvins, Torche, and early Baroness, but that’s perfectly okay. What better bands to emulate these days? And besides, this collection of songs is surprisingly strong, a cool contrast between sumptuous, hooky riffs and charismatic harsh vocals. Jonathan Horseley premiered this album last month, and I highly recommend you check it out.
Exhumation, Hymn to Your God (Dunkelheit): Workmanlike death metal from Indonesia, plenty punishing yet always smart enough to avoid overwhelming the melodies. If only it left a more lasting impression; death metal is so saturated with sound-alikes that it’s impossible to recommend anything that’s not extraordinary.
Helms Alee, Sleepwalking Sailors (Sargent House): The lovable Seattle trio is back with its third album, and while the band’s throttling blend of noise and sludge is as strong as ever. Once again, though, it’s the more dynamic moments that stand out most, especially those that see guitarist Ben Verellen and bassist Dana James share lead vocals, as on the instant highlights “New West” and “Tumescence”. It’s a tactic that works so well for them that the fact that doesn’t happen more on this album is slightly frustrating. Stream and purchase it via Bandcamp.
Solstice, Death’s Crown Is Victory (Into The Void): Founding guitarist Rick Walker has resurrected Solstice with a new lineup, and the UK doom band’s first recorded work in 13 years sees them sounding in full stride. True to form, this is a decidedly, overtly English take on doom, less preoccupied with the bluesy swing of Sabbath, focusing more on a blend of formality and pastorality, hammered home by Walker’s stately riffs and Paul Kearns’ staid singing. Billed as an EP, this 26-minute collection is nevertheless a welcome return by a still-vital band.
Towers, II (Eolian): The latest album by the Portland bass-and-drums weirdos is typically impossible to pin down, a highly unique amalgam of metal, noise, industrial, no wave, and krautrock that, much like Voivod, sounds like aliens trying to replicate human music, not quite succeeding, yet sounds completely unique and engrossing.
The Unguided, Fragile Immortality (Napalm): A mess of melodic death metal, trance synth melodies, pandering active rock, and outlandish power metal singing, this new band throws everything at listeners, repelling them instead of drawing them in. And last time I checked, there are no power ballads in melodic death metal. More smarmy than charming, this is one to avoid.
Van Canto, Dawn Of The Brave (Napalm): The stupidest band in a very stupid genre is back with another album of a cappella power metal tunes. As usual, the only tracks of perverse interest are the covers, and this time around the sextet murders “The Final Countdown”, “Holding Out For a Hero”, and most heinously, “Paranoid”. Of course, it is horrible. Doon doon doon, muh-muh-muh-muh, muh-muh-muh-muh.
Not metal, but worth hearing:
Eric Church, The Outsiders (EMI): Male country acts have always been so repellent to yours truly, which makes the fact that I absolutely love Eric Church’s new album all the more surprising. He’s taken his “rebel country” shtick to an honest and surprisingly daring level on The Outsiders, an undercurrent of hard rock and, yes, even metal running through it, adding much-needed grit and bombast to his carefully honed, accessible songwriting. Toss in the craziest heavy rock/outlaw country/spoken word/prog epic you’ll ever hear in “Devil Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)” alongside its brooding title track and the badass “That’s Damn Rock & Roll”, and you’ve got a genuinely likeable country singer creating a clever, creative, and slickly subversive hybrid that can appeal to hard rock fans and the Wal-Mart country crowd at the same time.