Posts Tagged ‘Doom’

Southern Lord – 25th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The appearance of a new Sunn O))) album just six months after Life Metal represents a significant upsurge in their usually steady output. But then, as much as it is a standalone document, Pyroclasts exists in many ways as a companion and counterpart to Life Metal, which in the slow-moving scheme of Sunn O))) represented a seismic shift on a par with Monoliths and Dimensions in that it brought a new focus. The question posed by Life Metal centred around what precisely could Steve Albini bring to Sunn O)))’s eternal drone guitar noise. In the event, his ‘stick the mics in front of the amps at a precise distance and angle and let the tape roll’ approach brought new sonic dimensions (but no monoliths) to the fore, giving the band a new and unexpected richness of sound. It’s this clarity and depth that also defines Pyroclasts recorded during the same sessions.

An element of ritual is integral to much of Sunn O)))’s work, and while this is perhaps nowhere more evident than in their live performances, the very nature of the music, the image, and the titling of their albums alludes to a certain type of repetitive organisation and (pseudo)spiritual convention. The origins of Pyroclasts is rooted in that ritualism, as is explained in the press release:

‘The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion.’

And so the four pieces on Pyroclasts last between 10’54” and 11’04”, and being aware of the time constraints imposed by the players, the endings make sense: the first track, ‘Frost’, is close to what sounds like a natural ending as the drone hum hangs, but fades uncommonly fast when ordinarily they’d let the note hang for an eternity. Likewise the last of the four, ‘Ascensions’, which starts higher, faster, more aggressively than is usual for Sunn O))), and ends abruptly as though the tape was simply stopped dead – which it probably was.

Given the band’s maximalist tendencies and a propensity for sprawling sludgescapes spanning fifteen to twenty minutes this discipline and concision offers a new insight into their methods. Four tracks and a running time of circa forty minutes is tight for Sunn O))), and it works remarkably well.

Pyroclasts is exploratory and experimental in context of Sunn O))), and in revealing new facets while at the same time mining the same seam the band have explored since their inception, it’s an interesting and highly necessary document of their evolution and practises. Moreover, it’s another booming slab of texture-heavy droning doom and absolutely classic Sunn O))).

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New Heavy Sounds – 11th October 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

Cold in Berlin’s evolution has followed a fairly steady but swift arc: having emerged in 2010 with the spiky attack that was Give Me Walls, Rituals of Surrender represents their fourth album. That’s a respectable work rate, and over that time they’ve remained true to their dark, post-punk gothy roots, but have become progressively slower and heavier, the guitars growing sludgier, doomier.

In musical circles, there is always a ‘new strain’ emerging, even if said strain is a revisioning of an older strain. Not so long ago, it was post-punk revivalism, then there was a vintage heavy metal return, which in turn spawned the emergence of a stoner / doom / sludge hybrid. Cold in Berlin, having crashed in on the post-punk tidal wave are now more closely aligned to another more niche strain of the latter, namely colossally heavy female-fronted bands who bring an ethereal and emotive aspect to the sludgy / stoner / heavy template. Is it lazy journalism to bracket Cold in Berlin’s latest offering alongside Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard and the last couple of albums by Chelsea Wolfe? Perhaps, but the references are at least instructive in terms of establishing a certain thread of stylistic commonality. But for every similarity, there are equal differences, and Cold in Berlin are most definitely a unique proposition in the way they balance the instrumental heft with Maya’s powerful vocals.

The album gets straight down to business with ‘The Power,’ which prefaced the arrival back in early September, accompanied by an appropriately moody, horror-hinting video. The bass and guitar grate and saw in unison over a slow tribal march. The tension builds and breaks in a landslide to a mammoth chorus.

The nine tracks on Rituals are heavy – plenty heavy – with some killer riffs. But that weight and the overloading overdrive is not at the expense of accessibility: the songs are clearly structured and benefit from strong and defined choruses.

Lyrically, the album is strewn with funereal imagery of death and decay, coffins and caskets, yet somehow manages to avoid cliché. The songs also pour anguish. ‘There is grief that tastes good in your mouth / there is grief that takes years to scrub out / There is darkness buried beneath my skin / there is darkness at the heart of everything’, Maya sings, pained, at the start of ‘Avalanche’ against a sparse sonar-like bass boom and a weeping drone of feedback before the drums and power chords come crashing in with crushing force. Can there be onomatopoeic instrumentation? If so, Cold in Berlin have mastered it, the pulverizing

The ritual aspect of surrender is never far from range: ‘You could string her up / you could string her up her body’s a temple for your love’ Maya sings commandingly on ‘Temples’ against a thunderous grind of heavily distorted guitars. Elsewhere, ‘Monsters’ is tense, intense, and grand, drama radiating from every note, and Rituals of Surrender is outstanding in its consistency.

Blending hefty riffology with full-lunged brooding, Rituals of Surrender sees Cold in Berlin occupy the space between doom and goth, emerging like Sabbath fronted by Siouxsie. And they do it so well: this could well be their definitive album.

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Cold in Beerlin - Rituals

Gizeh Records / Consouling Sounds

13th September 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

A-Sun Amissa’s fifth album promises to build on ‘the foundations of previous record Ceremony in the Stillness (2018), incorporating some of the heavier, distorted, guitar oriented themes but this time fuses them with broken, crumbling electronic beats and primal drone movements’.

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about how Richard Knox has steered A-Sun Amissa in recent years has been his systematic approach to producing new output: following a gap of fur years between 2013’s You Stood Up for Victory, We Stood Up for Less and The Gatherer (2017), with the assistance of an array of collaborators, he’s released an album a year. This has likely proved integral to the steady evolution and the sense of progression across the last three albums. And this album being almost a completely solo effort (Knox wrote, recorded, and mixed the entire album, as well as providing the artwork) has really focused his energies on pushing himself in all directions across the album’s two longform compositions

The pieces on offer here are underpinned by vast ambient passages that are drenched in distortion and reverb, slowly unfurling before more industrial, kinetic sounds are introduced and heaving guitars come to the fore. As ever, there’s a melancholic dissonance that resonates throughout, repetition is key and moments of dread are paired with shafts of light as these two monolithic pieces unravel themselves over the course of forty minutes.

‘Seagreaves’ begins as a distant howl of dark, whirling noise, scraping, screeding, creating a dark, simmering tension and a sense of foreboding, of disquiet.When it fades out to be replaced by guitar, the atmosphere shifts from menacing to melancholy. There are hints of Neurosis, and also Earth Inferno era Fields of the Nephilim in the picked notes, gradually decaying in an organic reverb. The cyclical motif is pushed along by a plodding rhythm, forging a slow, lumbering groove that builds primarily through plain repetition. Petering out to almost nothing around the midpoint, we’re left with a vast, open and almost empty space. It’s around the sixteen-minute point that everything surges back in for a sustained crescendo, a cinematic post-metal climax that finds the guitars soar while the rhythm thunders low and slow.

‘Breath by Breath’ is subtler still, elongated drones and whispers of feedback echo as if a long way away, before a piano ripples somewhere on the horizon. The atmosphere isn’t strictly tense or even dark, but shadowy, and it’s difficult to attribute a specific sensation or mood to it. When the strolling bass and sedate percussion roll in, layers of metallic guitar noise filters in – quiet, backed off, but harsh. Voices echo from the underworld, almost subliminally. And then: a momentary pause. It’s barely a heartbeat, but everything crashes in with the driving yet deliberate force of Amenra. And from hereon in it’s incremental, but also cumulative in its growing volume and impact.

Knox describes For Burdened and Bright Light as ‘a more immersive, ambitious, adventurous record of conflicting emotions as the theme of the work tackles the contradictions of being human and explores the duality of light and dark, hope and despair’, and not only is the ambitiousness clear, but those ambitions are fulfilled. Dare I – once again – describe a work as ‘epic’? Yes: the scope of For Burdened and Bright Light is vast in every sense, and it does engage the listener’s senses and provokes contemplation through it’s shifting movements, moving not only between mods but also genre forms. The result is not only unique, but powerful and captivating, holding the attention and rewarding patience over the expansive pieces.

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The Pyroclasts album is the result of a daily practice which was regularly performed each morning, or evening during the two week Life Metal sessions at Electrical Audio during July 2018, when all of the days musical participants would gather and work through a 12 minute improvised modal drone at the start and or end of the day’s work. The piece performed was timed with a stopwatch and tracked to two inch tape, it was an exercise and a chance to dig into a deep opening or closing of the days session in a deep musical way with all of the participants. To connect/reconnect, liberate the creative mind a bit and greet each other and the space through the practice of sound immersion. The players across the four pieces of Pyroclasts are Tim Midyett, T.O.S., Hildur Guðnadóttir, and as always Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson.

Pyroclasts was recorded and mixed by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio on two inch tape July 2018, and mastered by Matt Colton through all analogue AAA process at Metropolis July 2019. The album is released via Southern Lord on 23rd September.

While you’re waiting, you can check the trailer here:

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Sunn - Pyroclasts

Svart Records – 30th August 2019

Christopher Nosnibor

The Portland two-piece described as purveyors of ‘noisy metal’ haven’t wasted time on naming their third album, which lands five years on from 2014’s Here in the Deadlights, and have instead focused on the contents and rendering it as maximalist as possible. There are a fair few duos around at the moment who manage to conjure a full-band sound. It’s impressive, but how do they do it? Big amps and lots of pedals is the usual answer, but with these guys, there’s got to be something more. I mean, the sound is huge. In fact, no, it’s way bigger than huge. Alchemy. It’s gotta be.

The album’s five songs are all at least seven minutes long, and are, without exception, hefty as hell riffmongous monsters, the noisy metal style being very much of the sludgy stoner persuasion, with Melvins being the most obvious and appropriate touchstone. But they’re no half-arsed style appropriators: there’s a lot going on here, and there’s a slew of other elements in the mix. Punk and psychedelia may sound like an awkward combination, but they pull them together effortlessly, along with a dose of really gritty thrash.

‘Caveman Waltz’ doesn’t sound like it’s actually in waltz-time, but steps up from a lumbering knuckledragger of a riff to doubling the tempo halfway through and thrashing out an uptempo throb with spiralling lead fretwork weaving a sonic mesh over the thumping percussion as the vocals go full-throated holler mode.

And they’ve got tricks galore up their (wizard’s) sleeves. The twelve-minute ‘Funeral of the Sun’ melds black metal and prog to create an expansive piece that rages and snarls but also features moments of rich atmosphere and strong melody.

Closer ‘V’ drives in hard with the most overtly thrash riff, but the vocals go all psych and the lead line is mathy and then… my head’ spinning with all of it after just a minute and a half. Nine minutes in and it’s all over.

You’ll likely often read that metal is running out of ideas, and that doomy / stoner / sludge has become a predictable parody of itself. And it’s not entirely untrue. But then an act like Wizard Rifle will present themselves and completely smash all preconceptions with a blend of killer riffs and wild innovation. Here, Wizard Rifle prove that there’s still a lot of ground to be explored through permutation and hybridity, delivering an album that’s solidly rooted in familiar territories, but at the same time explores new ground and doesn’t sound quite like anything else. At least, nothing I’ve yet heard.

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Wizard Rifle – Wizard Rifle

There are rituals surrounding all acts of surrender; the strange dance we perform before the many endings scattered throughout our lives, before the next beginning rises from the dust. Cold in Berlin’s new album Rituals of Surrender, released on 11th October via London label New Heavy Sounds, offers up thunderous modern fables, crawling from the wreckage of an ordinary life – dark and hopeful – standing tall in the debris.

With new single ’The Power’, Cold in Berlin return with a dark slab of gothic doom just in time to soundtrack a burning world, which they describe as, ‘dark, black and infinitely heavy’. Listen now:

Christopher Nosnibor

And yet again, after a soaking on my way to see Interpol in Leeds a fortnight ago, the heavens open to deliver a truly tropical downpour, a torrent of fair biblical proportions in stepping out of the station. It’s way to wet to have my phone out to sat-nav to the pub I’ve arranged to meet a mate in, so I take hasty refuge in The Scarboro Hotel.

It’s not hyperbole or dramatic scaremongering to say that this is climate change in effect. It’s been stiflingly hot, we’ve experienced high winds – which is why I left my umbrella at home: Poundland brollies and strong gusts don’t go together – and light showers and some flash downpours. But this precipitation isn’t so much a cloudfall as a monsoon, and as frustrating and mood-despoiling the soaking is, the bigger picture is that this is a sign of things to come. JG Ballard’s 1962 post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel The Drowned World is rapidly looking like future reportage rather than speculation.

It’s a good thing I’m heading to Temple of Boom in my drenched state. Live music invariably proves itself to be a mod-lifter, or at least the best conduit to a window of escapism, and never more than a night of full-throttle metal. It’s a genre I’ve come to appreciate almost exponentially over the last decade after spending years completely disinterested and dismissive. The irony that I considered metal somehow juvenile and primitive isn’t lost as I realise I’ve grown to grasp the sheer diversity of the – infinitely fragmented – genre, as well as the benefits of untrammelled catharsis as a form of therapy.

The tip I’d had ahead of the show suggested Vonnis were pedlars of fairly standard grindy thrash, and musically, this is fundamentally true. It’s all in the delivery, and I’m wondering a day on if their front-man’s antics were the result of drunkenness, insanity, or a combination of the two. Their Facebook bio records a history of ‘dislocated shoulders or open leg fractures’ and a ‘disregard for any kind of personal safety’, and they deliver on that. Tonight’s set found this guy piling up (and falling off) monitors, stumbling wildly, stripping from his boiler suit to socks and boxers and ending the set on the flor in front of the stage with his head in a bin. The whole thing was demented, and was a real horrorshow car-crash of a performance – but it was utterly compelling.

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Vonnis

Bismuth are compelling for all the right reasons, bashing out some monumental noise with drums and bass. By which I mean BASS. Arsequaking bass. Head-shredding bass. Immense bass drones that sound like Sunn O))) and Earth circa Earth 2. Simultaneously. Bass channelled through a pedal board the size of a cruise liner to the point it no longer sounds like bass. An age separates the trike of every chord, every explosive, punishing beat. Bismuth grind it out, low, slow and heavy, but with the full frequency spectrum: bass that sounds like a full band lineup with everything up to eleven, or even twelve.

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Bismuth

Tanya Byrne’s vocals range from a delicate and emotionally-charged melodic to full-blooded howl of pain: it’s all integral to Bismuth’s sound and intensity, and the set concludes with Tanya out in the audience, on her knees, shrieking and howling into a wall of feedback. It feels like the purest catharsis, and the entire room is on edge and close to breaking to bring down a devastating finish.

Whereas Bismuth’s sound is textured, detailed, and atmospheric, Moloch go all out for blunt force trauma. Lumbering riffage provides the backdrop to rasping guttural anguish. There’s something about the vocals, which register in the higher regions, and the way they contrast with the shuddering downtuned sludgefest. There’s also the complete lack of pretence or even any real kind of show involved.

“Hiya, we’re Moloch,” says Chris Braddock as he takes the mic. Cue a wail of feedback before everything crashes in and continues to grind away at a gut-churning crawl for the next forty punishing minutes.

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Moloch

With three guitars dominating the six-piece’s instrumentation, Thou have texture and density completely covered. And despite the fact they’ve been going some fourteen years with only two changes to the lineup, they still appear remarkably youthful. The ever-informative Encyclopaedia Metallum locates them in the bracket of ‘Sludge/Drone/Doom Metal’ and lists their lyrical themes as ‘Despair, Revolution, Societal collapse, Death.’ This does nothing to convey the intensity of their albums or the kind of performance they deliver – or, moreover, the nonchalance with which Bryan Funck – wild-eyed and grey-bearded – delivers his velociraptor vocal scream.

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Thou

It should be harrowing, hellish, but is precisely the opposite. To witness a band so finely-honed, channelling everything into a powerful and relentless piledriving assault is a beautiful and uplifting thing: elating, life-affirming. As they thunder through an immaculate set, I find I’m no longer in the room and everyone else has melted away. There is nothing but this moment, in which I find my mind is empty and I am floating, detached, wired into the music alone. Time stops and the sound becomes everything.