Takhisis – Takhisis (self-titled)

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Label: Blackened Death Records

Pope Richard seems like the kind of guy who’s never satisfied unless he’s creating something. As well as running Blackened Death Records, he’s also the creative force behind over a dozen different bands, the latest release from which is the self-titled album as Takhisis. The album serves up 40 minutes of crushing occult doom, full of catchy hooks and powerful riffs, but more than that, it’s possessed of a dark, subtly seductive atmosphere, full of clandestine sorcery and secret gatherings. It also feels like one of the most confident, assured records that Pope Richard has put his name to, and considering the consistent quality of his records, that’s quite something.

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Carnivorous Forest – Frozen Rivers

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Label: Blackened Death Records 

Some things are worth waiting for. After a collection of demos, splits, and EP releases, the full-length from neofolk/death metal act Carnivorous Forest is finally here, and it does not disappoint. Frozen Rivers is a powerful, atmospheric record, varied in scope and tone, yet with a consistent character that ties everything together. Listeners who have enjoyed previous Carnivorous Forest releases will not be disappointed. Sole member Amarok is in fine form throughout, and of all the different releases he has put out over the past few years in many guises on Blackened Death Records, this is undoubtedly one of the best.

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Shiteater / Clit Eastwood – Shit Clit Split

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Label: Blackened Death Records

You’ll probably be unsurprised to learn that Shit Clit Split isn’t the most sophisticated of listens. Featuring one-man act Shiteater from the UK, who play old-school, disgusting death metal, and US grind/crust/powerviolence band Clit Eastwood, this is a split for those who don’t take their lyrics too seriously, but still want to hear killer riffs. The contrasting styles of the two bands play off well against each other, and there’s a lot of energy and fun to be found here, but its inherently OTT lyrical nature is both its greatest strength and biggest weakness.

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2016 Favourites – And The Rest

2016 has been the year that saw me listen to, and review, more music than ever before. For every release that gets reviewed, there’s several that I don’t have the time to write something on; or that I listen to, but simply don’t get excited over. It’s also worth bearing in mind the purposes of this blog – exploring the underground. With the odd exception (such as the new Darkthrone), I have no interest in writing in the “big” releases; I want to help give some exposure and coverage to the small and underground, not go chasing whatever review or feature will get me the most hits. I’d also point out that it’s easy to lose sense of what actually is mainstream and underground when you spend so much time immersed in music. Sure, everyone may have access to Bandcamp and Youtube and a legion of Spotify recommendations, but  it’s easy to overestimate just how big our favourite bands are.

That said, there’s still some mainstream releases I’ve really enjoyed this year and want to share some thoughts on in another post. But here, I want to take the time to give shout-outs to those more underground releases which didn’t quite make the cut for my list of 25 favourites of the year.

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Shrug – Apathy

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Label: Blackened Death Records

Apathy isn’t really an album to be enjoyed. Whilst there are lots of elements I like about the first full-length from Shrug, it is a bleak, harrowing listen, dealing as it does with issues of depression, illness, and suicide. It doesn’t shy away from any of its themes, confronting them with a straightforward approach that can be quite uncomfortable, and is remarkably honest. There’s no suicide idolatry here, no veneration of depression as artistic inspiration. Instead, there are elements of harsh noise, experimental electronics, and goth rock, resulting in something quite unusual, but very convincing and brave.

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Uncanny Reality – Plague Of Ignorance

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Label: Blackened Death Records

After a series of EPs, demos and split releases, Uncanny Reality have unleashed their first full-length in the form of Plague Of Ignorance. Whereas previous releases have wallowed in dark, murky black metal territories somewhere between Leviathan and DSBM, Plague Of Ignorance is a much more ambitious release. There’s much less reliance on repetition and atmosphere, with stronger riffs and more memorable song-writing, as well as an added sense of muscularity that sees the music verge upon blackened death metal at points. Though there’s still a few rough edges, these help to give the album extra charm and character, making Plague Of Ignorance a much heavier, more punishing listen than I expected.  Continue reading

Elk – Wōđanaz

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Label: Blackened Death Records

I sometimes feel that I often talk about the importance of repetition in music, and how many bands use it as a way of reaching for something hypnotic or transcendent, but without always achieving the desired results. Whilst that’s something I usually mention in a black metal context (probably due to how many bands are still in thrall to Burzum), neofolk act Elk are a great example of a band outside the metal scene using repetition to great effect. The three songs on Wōđanaz are heavy on repetition, cycling through what appear initially to be very basic structures and movements that reveal themselves, in time, to be surprisingly deep. The end result is so captivating and hypnotic, it’s hard not to be impressed. The songs are infused with a real sense of spirituality that, making this EP something that is very powerful and almost profound.

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