The association between role-playing games and dungeon synth has always been present, and in many ways is a fundamental aspect of the genre. As such, it’s always good to see when bands lean into that link, both visually and sonically. The new split between SHRIEKING and Puddleglum does just that, bringing to mind evenings spent on Dungeons & Dragons or early computer RPGs. It’s inherently nostalgic, but both bands here try to do something more than tap into old memories, with each side of the split aiming to be meditative and contemplative. It’s a lofty goal for instrumental music made using retro sounds, but it’s one that the split lives up to.
As cathartic as sludge can be, with its huge riffs and primitive aggression, it rarely lets itself be an emotional genre in the typical sense of vulnerability. Instead, the music often feels like it’s putting up a front, and though there’s a few notable exceptions – Crowbar have never been afraid to show a more sensitive side, for example – the genre is dominated by a sense of muscularity, of powering through or dwelling in negativity. Throwing Bricks are unmistakably rooted in sludge, but on What Will be Lost they add something close to tenderness to the huge, crawling riffs and heft that characterises the genre. The end result belongs as much to post-hardcore as sludge, and is a thrilling listen.
We’re at the end of months 2 of lockdown (here in the UK, at least), and it’s getting no easier. When it comes to music though, it’s worth noting that Bandcamp are trying to help by waiving fees on the first Friday of each month for the next few months, to help artists survive. So, here’s a few reviews that might give you new ideas of what to check out, including my current AOTY for Forlesen; melancholic black metal by Graveir; an EP of laid-back synthwave from Jaime Irles; Karnstein offering raw black/death/gothic metal; Koniec Pola taking us on an avant-garde adventure; and Resent bringing some nasty, filthy sludge. Enjoy!
It’s always nice when an intro leaves you guessing what the album proper will sound like. ‘The Debt’, which opens up the debut album of the same name from WitchUrn, does exactly that, with its four minutes of acoustic guitar being the kind of opener that could give way to prog, or death, or thrash, or just about any other metal style you can name. It’s when ‘Deserts Beyond the Tomb’ begins that it is clear what The Debt truly offers – face-ripping blackened thrash laced with death metal, that’s delightfully vicious and – whisper it – a little bit progressive.
France’s Fange have been consistently releasing records of utmost nastiness and noise-drenched extremity for seven years now, with their previous albums and EPs showcasing a blend of HM-2 powered death metal/hardcore that’s laced with industrial noise. Third album Pudeur carries on in the same style, but with the departure of drummer Alexandre Jadi, it represents a critical juncture for the band. Rather than replace Jadi, Fange have slimmed down to a trio, with Benjamin Moreau (guitars, machines), Antoine Perron (bass) and Matthias Jungbluth (vocals) building the album from drum machine rhythms instead. Whilst it inevitably loses a human touch to the rhythms, what Pudeur gains instead is an increased sense of clinical violence, making the album almost equal parts Godflesh as it is Entombed.
It’s fair to say that the task facing Elder is a daunting one. Since releasing their self-titled album in 2008, the band have made their way to the top of the psychedelic doom pantheon, with previous album Reflections of a Floating World being a huge success that really cemented the band’s place within the scene. As such, Omens arrives with a huge weight of expectation, especially as the band have with the addition of guitarist Michael Risberg, and Georg Edert has taken over the drum stool. It’s little surprise, then, that Omens is a different album to its predecessor; but it’s still unmistakably an Elder album, with all the brilliance that implies.
Following a short break after the touring cycle for previous album The Fall of Hearts, Swedish masters of misery Katatonia return with City Burials, a new chapter in their gothic, depressive progressive metal journey. As would be hoped for, City Burials wears its sorrow upon its sleeve, wounded and sincere, yet offering healing through the sharing of pain. It might not be as immediate an album as its predecessor, but City Burials is a slow-burner, that contains vast depths which require time to fully explore and get the most out of, eventually revealing itself to be every bit as strong as anything Katatonia have released.
It’s interesting how DSBM has become two different genres within itself: the raw, murky style exemplified by the likes of Xasthur; and the brighter, melody-led style that Ghost Bath are a prime example of. Led by Delusions, the new solo project of Immørdæk following the end of former band Uncanny Reality, is not without its own sense of melody, but in terms of intent and atmosphere, debut album Natural Decay is all about misanthropy and misery. Revelling in the darkness it creates, Natural Decay is an album infused with a sense of nihilism, every note steeped in existential sadness and despair.
From the ashes of Nihill comes Ulveblod. The solo project of Vitriol from said band, Ulveblod takes the beligerent aspects of Nihill and ups them beyond recognition, layering their black metal assault with waves of harsh noise and discordance until the end result can barely be called music. Which, of course, is the intention. Omnia Mors Aequat takes the aural violence of bands like Gnaw Their Tongues and the industrial/black metal combination of Blut Aus Nord as a starting point, as well as the harsh bleakness of Nihill, and dispenses with any kind of melody or conventional structure, with results that are undeniably extreme and chaotic; but also thoroughly, unintentionally unenjoyable.
As anyone who has been seriously sick or injured could tell you, there’s a paradox to the act of healing, in that recovery can be really fucking difficult and painful. The same is true of emotional hurt, and that paradox is what lies at the heart of Forever. The new album from Madeline Johnston, going by the name of Midwife, is a tribute to her friend Colin Ward, who sadly passed away unexpectedly in 2018. The ghost of that loss hangs over Forever, and is an integral part of the album; yet you don’t need to know the backstory to be touched by Forever. Anyone who has loved, lost, and hurt will know exactly what this album is trying to communicate.