Early last year, I discovered Psalm 88, an offshoot of Berkeley, CA-based cassette label Acephale Winter Productions. While all of the sub-label’s initial batch of wares were impressive in their own right, the one that impressed me the most was Behold Darkness’ I, a gripping nineteen minutes of frozen-soul black metal that was easily the most complete sounding of the four releases reviewed. Indeed, it was a recording I found myself continuing to revisit on the regular, which is really saying something when one considers how often I burn out on the music I choose to review due to the sheer number of repeat listens involved.
Back in 2012, Jacksonville’s Cystic Dysentery released Culture of Death, one of my favorite under-the-radar brutal death metal albums of the last five years. Indeed, the band’s debut displays their oldschool Floridian influences (think Cannibal Corpse, Obituary, etc) while at the same time upping the heaviness factor considerably by mixing in some seriously gnarly Suffocation vibes, twisting those inspirations into a singular BDM assault. After four long years of silence, Cystic Dysentery are finally ready release a follow-up, the long-awaited Homicidal Suicide.
In early 2014, New Jersey-based black metal band Hercyn sent me a copy of their debut release, the excellent Magda. To say that I was blown away by the twenty-four minute, single track demo would be an understatement; this was the kind of gloomy, neo folk-tinged black metal I had been yearning for more of ever since Agalloch released their classic The Mantle back in 2002. A subsequent split with Thera Roya spoke to the band’s dedication to continuing to refine their sound, but it also left me wanting more. Fortunately I don’t have to wait any longer, as Hercyn are about to release Dust and Ages. Indeed, the band’s first full length makes good on the promise of the their previous shorter releases, delivering a pair of epic tracks (plus an intro and outro) that are easily the band’s most accomplished and fully-realized works to date. Curious to know more about the band’s inner workings and the creation of Dust and Ages, I sent the band a slew of questions which they graciously answered in great depth via e-mail.
2015 has been a damn fine year for death metal so far, and it appears that Profound Lore is looking to up the ante with their most recent salvo of releases. Indeed, the label has in its hot little hands a pair of debut full-lengths from two up-and-coming bands who’s respective takes on death metal couldn’t be more different if they tried, yet both strive for excellence in their own way.
When darkwave legends Lycia returned from the musical wilderness with Quiet Moments in 2013, it was widely hailed as a stellar comeback for the band. While I certainly enjoyed the album, I couldn’t help but feel that they were just warming up. Quiet Moments is unquestionably a good record, a great record even, but it also struck me as the work of an artist attempting to fully regain their footing after some fairly lengthy gaps between releases (seven years between Empty Space and the Fifth Sun EP, three years between Fifth Sun and QM).
Last year, Gainesville, FL’s Ars Phoenix put out one of the best darkwave albums I’ve heard in quite some time in the form of Violent Rain, a release that combined robotic synths with an icy, sinister vibe to create a delightfully dark yet catchy and at times even danceable take on the genre. I revisit the album often, so I was quite excited when the band e-mailed to inform me that they had some new material out in the form of a split with fellow Floridians Burnt Hair titled Shinju (“double suicide” in Japanese).
I haven’t really heard much straight-up death metal that tickles my fancy in 2015, so it was a pleasant surprise to get a copy of Negative Vortex’s Tomb Absolute in the mail from the ever-reliable Caligari Records. Indeed, the Oakland, CA-based quartet kicks up quite the storm of burly ‘n’ bulldozing DM on their debut demo, which will surely appeal to fans who can’t get enough of the genre at its most crushingly traditional.
Caligari Records has only been active since 2013, but in that time the label has released an ungodly slew of excellent metal with no allegiance to any particular subgenre. Indeed, the only thread that seems to tie Caligari’s releases together is an ear for quality, and that quality continues to run over the cassette label competition, this time in the form of No Life, the second demo (first EP?) from Boston black metal bruisers Human Bodies.
Many moons ago Relapse Records introduced me to noise. That’s probably a bit hard to imagine for younger folks that only know the label as the beard metal stronghold it is today, but trust me, way back when Relapse was releasing some seriously bonkers shit. You see, Relapse used to have a sub-label called Release Entertainment and it was to noise, dark ambient and experimental music what Relapse once was to death metal, grindcore and the like.
Few bands have captured my attention in 2014 quite like Full of Hell. I had the pleasure of witnessing the quartet’s devastating, show-stealing live set back in August and was blown away by their combination of relentless intensity and determination to push the envelope of grind/hardcore deep into the realms of harsh noise. It was like someone had thrown Jane Doe-era Converge in a blender with Release Records-era Merzbow and set that motherfucker to liquefy; easily one of the most simultaneously challenging and exhilarating live experiences ever. Needless to say, when I caught wind of the announcement that they had signed a deal with Profound Lore and their debut for the venerable label would be a collaboration with the aforementioned Japanese God of Noise himself, anticipation was through the roof and then some.