This installment of my rolling heavy metal ICYMI [“Paul Rudd here, actor and certified young person…“ – Ed], we’re off to France (twice), Italy, Belgium, Australia, USA (if they promise not to mention politics, anyway), and even drizzly old Blighty. And even this edition’s Googly is proper good, so you had best read on.
Boisson Divine – La Halla
Finally, something I can talk about with enthusiasm from Occitane, France that isn’t rugby related. And while that region’s teams include Toulouse, who have the quite ridiculous Cheslin Kolbe, I’m not convinced La Halla isn’t more fun than anything ovoid-ball-related.
Boisson Divine (“divine drink”) are firmly in the folk metal realm, with La Halla definitely featuring a banjo, an accordion, some tin whistles, and I’m pretty sure I heard a hurdygurdy in there for good measure. This is mostly sung in Gascon (the language they speak in Occitane, as well as French), but not being able to understand a bloody word of it doesn’t prevent it being more hooky than an angling competition run by a J.M. Barrie villain. It’s got sticking power, too; jaunty jigs and barn-dancing frolics need melodic strength if the rhythms aren’t going to lose their lustre after a few tracks, and the quite excellent vocals and instrumental lines make sure this remains memorable and engaging right to the end, and on repeat plays.
TL;DR: Southern France’s answer to Korpiklaani
Dyscordia – Delete/Rewrite
These unsigned Belgians sit in that gloriously idiosyncratic prog metal niche where the only direct comparisons are too obscure to be useful, but Voyager fans should check this out immediately. Expect very down-tuned, crunching riffs, layered melodies in the instruments (especially keyboards), with a vocal style that’s unique and captivating.
Distinctiveness is only any use if it actually has something to say, and that’s blessedly where this shines. Memorable melodies and crisp riffage backed up by an impactful rhythm section, but it’s the vocal hooks that tie it all together. There’s a slightly reflective cast to the delivery, which offers it a wistful, tale-telling quality to lines phrased in the present tense, that gives it an odd juxtaposition of immediacy but detachment – almost like an android watching itself be deconstructed. Unsettling, but not disturbing, and completely captivating.
Kassad – London Orbital
One-man British act Kassad (who, coincidentally, is on a Sasketchewan, Canada-based label with the absolutely fantastic and recently suspended Altars Of Grief) plays that ambient but painfully bleak form of black metal people frequently want to tag the “post-” suffix onto. Irrespective of the accuracy of that, what’s definitely the case is that London Orbital is one of the most cold, isolated-in-a-crowd experiences I’ve heard in a long time.
Listening to this is like walking blinking out of Archway station, having had a dreadful half-hour on a sweaty, neon-lit Northern line train, only to hit the pissing cold rain of November, immediately confronted by grimy brown architecture and humans who are desperate for a warm bed, some food, and some top quality social worker intervention, and knowing you’ve got to spend all day with people you don’t really know and can’t talk to like real humans. Or something like that, anyway.
The clever trick that makes you feel so alone is the minimalist composition. Tracks build by layer more than melodic progression, with the same refrain frequently going on for most of the track, sometimes switching instrument or rhythm, but mostly sustaining, while other layers build and then disappear. The next track will sometimes pick up a very similar melody, but layer and structure it differently, or focus on a different area of the same musical phrase while changing the mood significantly. It’s fantastically Philip Glass-esque, and good fucking grief, is it miserable – and it’s completely wonderful.
Odious Mortem – Synesthesia
Odious Mortem’s first album in thirteen years is well worth the wait, and the San Franciscan’s third outing is a classic case of getting out what you put in. Synesthesia has a top layer of technical, broiling and destructive riffage that, if you’re just half-listening, or only give it one quick listen, may be all you take in. And if you do, you’ll have a good time, but you’ll miss what makes this stand out.
Focus a little, though, and the more progressive lead lines and solos start to come out, along with the subtleties of the drumming – and that’s when you find your foot tapping and your head nodding along without realising you’re doing it. It’s brutality, yes, but it’s a long way from being knuckle-dragging or generic, and is fun as hell once you give it the attention it asks of you. Yet another quality tech death release from Willowtip, who remain one of the most reliable labels for death metal.
Slift – Ummom
French trio Slift have possibly listened to Hawkwind. Perhaps. Once or twice. Maybe.
What’s definitely true is that their louder-than-a-rocket-launch spacy goodness is bloody great. And while the atmospherics and widdly/slidy bits of distortion provide hugely evocative feels, the real strength is how cracking the stoner-y crunch of the riffage is. This, combined with some more than capable vocals that pop in just often enough to centre your mind, helps to keep you from wandering too far off into the cosmos.
Throw in a really killer production job, and this is one that crosses way out of any genre niche in its appeal, and is worth a listen even if nothing above sounds appealing to your personal tastes. On the other hand, if you’ve been burning the Elder record so hard you’re worried you might overplay it, this should be checked out as an alternative immediately. Even if it is definitely ten minutes or so too long.
Xenobiotic – Mordrake
If Odious Mortem ask for your attention and reward you if you do, Xenobiotic grab your ear and try to chew it off, along with half your face.
Thoroughly modern death metal that uses its technicality to be as memorable as it is brutal, these Aussies are fucking murderous – but you probably won’t really notice that at first. What first leaps through the headphones is quite how infectious Mordrake is, in a way that brings to mind a virus that turns humans into squelchy puddles of ichor from a sci fi movie where the second most senior “scientist” is played by a 24-year-old model from southern California.
Sparingly used clean vocals and the odd radical change of pace and tone (such as the ambient, piano-led section of the absolutely fucking superb ‘Saphris‘) only make the hooky side of the sound more prominent at first. But stick with it, and you’ll start to dig out how articulately vicious it all is, from the dynamic vocals to the targeted, sparingly-used double bass drum kicks. And when the two link up, you’ve got a really skilled killer of a record.
If Willowtip are the go-to for traditional tech death, Xenobiotic’s label Unique Leader are the equivalent for the more modern variant. Both are well worth following on Bandcamp.
Temperance – Viridian
Pop metal is apparently a thing now, and I’m fully here for it. It’s not just Amaranthe any more, as Italians Temperance are clearly very much flaunting their credentials to join that party.
Nothing here is subtle or, frankly, very credible. The riffage is definitely metal but not very distinctive, and is mostly just there as foundation. However, the melodies are fucking fantastic pop music. Some are in lead guitar lines, some are in keyboards, and some are in the vocal lines – but all are really bloody fun.
While it’s not subtle (ever, even slightly), it’s not dumb either, as this effortlessly catchy stuff is really hard to do, and if it was easy, everyone would be as good as Ghost (and they aren’t). But what’s especially impressive is how killer the choruses are when the male and female vocals harmonise together – only for one to drop out, and leave the other to belt out the main hook solo. It’s a trick they repeat time after time, and speaks of a shit-ton of skill. The aforementioned Amaranthe may have the bigger hits, but Temperance manage to pack Viridian with way more great songs than the new album from the Swedes.
So why is this a Googly, rather than in the main section?
Because there’s a Christmas song at the end. It jingles, and it rings out with bells, and there is no pit in Satan’s fiery hell deep enough into which to cast it.