In the first of a (potentially… if anyone reads them) regular column, I round up some under-the-radar heavy music. Full details of how it works are on the about this blog page, to save making this intro boring and long.
This edition features some filthy doom, catchy power metal, something really unusual from Azerbaijan, and something slow about Rome.
Beggar – Compelled To Repeat
Bristolians Beggar’s debut is filth. The variety of fuzzy doom they play is full of dread, but it’s not actually all that distorted or hate-filled in itself, which makes the songs accessible and digestible without finding yourself riddled with misanthropy and dread. There’s swing and stomp and misery, for sure, but it’s not absolute Thou-esque punishment or Electric Wizard-style intoxicated nihilism.
What it does instead is use a bagload of tricks from other bits of metal’s nastier end, with venomous shrieking vocals, the occasional rattle of double-bass drums or the odd dissonent lead guitar wander. This all combines to making everything much more grubby and disturbing, and helps Beggar stand out from the scrungy crowd. Horrible, yes, but memorable too.
Light Dweller – Hominal
Twisting, morbid and downright virulent, Arizonan one-man-band Light Dweller has put out two records in successive years (and done instrumental editions of both to boot), and judging by Hominal, this is presumably because Cameron Boesch is bursting with good ideas. Again, this is proper filthy, all dirt-under-the-fingernails crypt-borne frost and putrescence.
Occupying that place where the lines between death and black metal stop having any meaning, Hominal is so chaotic it’s rumoured to be on the verge of being offered a cabinet post by Boris Johnson.
Having said all the above, it’s worth mentioning how absolutely crystal clear the ideas are. Often, really sepulchral stuff can mask riffs (or the lack thereof) in shitty production, or really chaotic death metal can just end up being swirling atonal noise that flaps around a lot looking menacing but never landing any of its punches. This doesn’t fall into either trap. Leads are surprisingly melodic, riffs are crisp and vicious, the Cannibal Corpse-style pinched harmonics are expertly jarring, and the necro production doesn’t obscure a single note – but holy shit, does it make it feel cold. Quality extremity.
Marrasmieli – Between Land And Sky
Another band who manage to use clever production to sound frosty and necro without it hiding anything, Finns Marrasmieli have put out a bloody great debut in Between Land And Sky. This is folky black metal at it’s most riffy and articulate, all shredding riffs, galloping drums and lilting violins.
While this hares out of the traps and never looks back, the riffage is so consistently fearsome and the ideas so plentiful that this only gets better as it goes along. The result is one of those glorious listens that both grabs you instantly and grows in your affection the more you listen to it, as the fucking brilliant later songs are when this album crosses from the good to the great. This is so fantastic, I really want to take Marrasmieli to the pub and buy them a really good meal and some beer to say thank you for making it. Absolute joy.
Mystic Prophecy – Metal Division
Somewhat less subtle than a tank battalion putting on a Christmas parade, Mystic Prophecy’s latest in a long line of quality albums is catchier than chlamydia in a brothel, and more fun than I think is strictly permitted before 9pm.
Their power metal (had you guessed?) is straight down-the-line, with little in the way of frills or gimmicks, allowing them to focus on pumping out 40ish minutes of ridiculous hooks and riffs that are more camp than a Kenneth Williams tribute show hosted by Alan Carr and Graham Norton, featuring music from Abba.
If you can make it through this without smiling, you probably need to speak to a neurologist.
Taster track: ‘Metal Division‘
Where to hear it: Spotify
Obsidian Tongue – Volume III
You would expect a band with associations with Panopticon, Woods Of Ypres (RIP David Gold, you are not forgotten), and Falls Of Rauros to be half decent, but the USA-based duo’s third outing is so much better than that.
Volume III melds vicious, slightly woodsy black metal (think autumnal leafy forests rather than acres of snowy pines) with a haunting, soaring clean vocal style and some clean guitar leads that are sublimely melodic in a way you normally associate more with something Finnish and melodeath/doomier than this.
The effect is bewitching, not least in the effortless way they switch between mood and pace in natural but unexpected little diversions, even wandering into the odd little soft section that harks of the more placid moments of Amenra. Don’t mistake this for a record that lacks bite, however, as this wander through the woods sounds like it’s carrying a big fuck-off axe.
Violet Cold – Noir Kid
Don’t try and stick this one in a convenient genre slot, because it doesn’t fit anywhere. Noir Kid is a completely improbable mix of black metal, ambient electronica, house, post-metal/post-rock, spacy shoegaze, Caucasus folk music, modern autotuned pop, and a weird bunch of other stuff too long to list. This should be one of those bizarre and nonsensical mindfucks that brings to mind that John Lennon quote about avant-garde being French for bullshit – only it sounds like the most natural, coherent, and intuitive mix of sounds you’ve never heard.
This Azerbaijani solo act manages to chimaira things together that really should not belong in the same genome, but births a record that sounds like it should be part of a well established genre of music in its own right. There are no jarring left-turns or sore-thumb moments that don’t fit. It’s just uplifting, catchy, jarring, glorious fucking music that makes you feel 50 feet tall and like all the difficult shit life throws at you can be defeated, and it’s all worth it in the end.
Absolutely fucking spectacular. This man is a genius.
Nero Or The Fall Of Rome – Beneath The Swaying Fronds Of Elysian Fields
You would have to be really trying hard not to spot the Primordial worship on display here, from the guitar tones (the leads, especially) that are straight out of The Gathering Wilderness, to the obsession with the Roman empire, to the riffage, to the still-looking-them-up-after-twenty-times long song titles, to the vocals.
But there’s a doomy, epic quality to this that takes this well out of purely black metal territories, and a tale-telling quality to these Italians which is captivating. Both suggest NOTFOR have a personality of their own itching to get through once they get a few albums in (this is their debut), and if they nail a great record in 2-4 years time, it would not be a surprise. The songwriting is solid and the guitar work excellent, and while …Elysian Fields has more obvious highs and lows than is ideal, the highs are lofty enough to make this more than worth a listen.
Where you really hope the band improve are the higher-register vocals. These do sound like vocalist Federico Dalla Benetta is straining rather hard, robbing those parts of his vocal work of the impact intended. It’s the thing that may put some listeners off, which is a shame, as when he’s in his lower register (such as in the beginning of ‘Coils Of Night‘), he’s bloody great, and there’s so much here to like. It doesn’t seem unfair, however, to think some listeners may find them a deal-breaker.