Friday, June 13, 2014

Review: Nuclearhammer - Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer (Nuclear War Now! Productions)

Famous for their brand of "war metal" Canadian bands like Blasphemy, Ouroboros, Rites of Thy Degringolade, Conqueror, and a slew of others have been pumping out extremely chaotic hellstorms of records for roughly three decades now. Not only that, but more recently bands like Mitochondrion and Antediluvian have been taking that crude, war-like formula and altering it to make it even more warped by adding new layers of hypnotic dissonance to the already dense art-form. Enter Nuclearhammer, who on their new full length Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer tread a fine line between the staggering chaos of their Canadian forefathers and the dense and at times experimental works of their peers, creating an album that is distinctly Canadian but also distinctly Nuclearhammer. 

Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer begins with "Multidimensional Prism of Black Hatred" (possibly the greatest song title of all time) which blasts forward with total intensity, blunt repetitive riffing collides with a screeching guitar solo before distant echoing vocals are grunted over the swarming horror. Along with such staggering brutality Nuclearhammer brings atmosphere that is uncommon within the "war metal" genre, equal parts destructive and ambient the track blisters onwards charging to the furthest points of extremity. Emphasis is placed on repetition, on the longer tracks this repetition is used to a hypnotic effect, putting the listener into a trance-like state. Utilized in a way that is typical within black metal albums, however the coldness and sorrow that accompanies black metal's repetition is replaced by Nuclearhammer's brand of hateful, mesmerizing fury. 

The bewitching hypnotic effect of the music adds to the cosmic theme that runs throughout the album. Lyrics of occult dimensions and apocalyptic mayhem are barked forth by three of the members who all assume vocal duties; Axaazaroth, Doomhammer, and Impugnor all taking variants of the same hellish rasp. The metal tracks on the album all basically follow this formula, echoing vocals over devastatingly barbaric blast beats and hypnotic driving riffs. Some variation is thrown in, "Phosphorous Clouds Descend on Mecca" offers a trudging lead in before the bestial destruction starts again. Shorter tracks like "...Rise No More" and "Parasitic (Temple of Rats)" offer a more grindcore inspired approach, but still contain the repetitive structure of the rest of the album. The monotony is not tiresome, it only adds to the unforgiving atmosphere Nuclearhammer conjures. This album is not meant to be technical, there is no attempt to impress the listener with guitar theatrics, their only goal is to bring as much cataclysmic fury as possible. 

Nuclearhammer also offer something unique between the sprawling blasphemy of the heavier tracks with industrial noise moments. These songs act almost as gateways, leading the listener into the next dimension of Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer. All titled with odd scientific names like "24-Cell (Octoplex)" and "H3po4 (Orthophosphoric Acid)" the noise ranges from industrial sounds to unsettling ambient drones. These pieces are a welcome addition to the album, adding another layer of insanity. They also help Nuclearhammer to stand out amongst the ranks of blasphemous black/death metal bands, distinguishing themselves as purveyors of all things harsh and unforgiving whether it is metal or noise, taking extremity to new limits.

On Serpentine Hermetic Lucifer Nuclearhammer have brought their deranged take on the already barbaric genre to new heights. Offering some of the most aggressive and chaotic music to be released so far this year the album stands as a tribute to the madness that lurks far beyond human reach and comprehension. It is available in CD and LP format from Nuclear War Now! Productions and can be streamed through the label here. Do not sleep on this monument of insanity.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: Impetuous Ritual - Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence (Profound Lore)

When I first heard Impetuous Ritual's form of death metal I wasn't ready. I had of course heard Portal and I was searching for more music treading the same cacophonous path, but Impetuous Ritual were different. Gone were the theatrics, the hoods (and clocks) all that was left was pure unhinged death metal. It took some time getting used to but after forcing myself to listen to the ilk of Relentless Execution of Ceremonial Excrescence over and over it became a cornerstone of my listening habits. Portal comparisons are obvious (due to the sharing of members) but Impetuous Ritual achieve something different, something more sinister in intention. Their intentions are quite clear, complete suffocating devastation. Guitars play jagged horrific riffs, drums crash along with equal parts ferocity and technicality while bass provides a throbbing low end to the murk. With their new album Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence the band not only continues down this path but pushes the sonic boundaries of death metal even further.

Density is key to the Impetuous Ritual formula, every single song on the album is packed with layers upon layers of guitars, providing the album with nearly harsh noise levels of density. The atmosphere is smothering, created by horribly twisted and repetitive instrumentation. The band takes death metal and deconstructs it, until all that's left is a teeming mass of riffs, representing death metal at it's most abstract and unfiltered. Impetuous Ritual take the already repugnant genre and make it even more so, it's dangerous, unpredictable, and disjointed. Occasionally twisted guitar solos rise over the primordial fury, frantically cutting through the thick riffing and further adding to the unsettling aura of the album. 

The first three tracks of the album all follow a similar formula, one of sheer intensity. There is no reprieve, the band continuously bludgeons the listener until the crawling doom of "Despair" interrupts the sheer madness for only a moment, beginning with a doomy rhythmic opening before abruptly descending back into tremolo-picked chaos. The next track "Inservitude of Asynchronous Duality" begins with a warlike, processional opening of poundings drums and swirling, repetitive riffs before sinking into utter madness. Vocalist Ignis Fatuus utilizes a multitude of vocal stylings on this track, deep grunts, harsh growls, piercing shrieks, and demented barking. Impetuous Ritual's deranged approach is at times accompanied simple accent elements like the tolling of a bell in the track "Metastasis" which adds to the intense ritualistic atmosphere that Impetuous Ritual conjure. The album comes to an end with "Blight" a nearly fifteen minute long onslaught of doom drenched death metal evil. The final track pushes the jagged experimentalism of the album to it's peak, chanting is utilized to add to the ominous ambience, guitars writhe and squirm while drums plod forward menacingly. The album closes with a droning guitar passage, an eerie ending to this monolith of death metal.

On Unholy Congregation of Hypocritical Ambivalence Impetuous Ritual succeed in deconstructing death metal into something horrifically barbaric yet intellectual and abstract. Combining suffocating atmosphere and unrelenting brutality to create something completely otherworldly. The album can be purchased through Profound Lore here

Review: Barren Harvest - Subtle Cruelties (Handmade Birds)

Barren Harvest is a collaborative project between Lenny Smith and Jessica Way, both boasting an impressive history in bands such as Atriarch and Worm Ouroboros. While both of their other bands reside at least somewhat in the realm of doom, Barren Harvest is a completely different sort of project. This record is delicate, ethereal, leaving space for the listener to breathe and take in the music. What the two create is a somber dream-like experience, focusing heavily on atmosphere through the use of synth, autoharp, acoustic guitar, and the interplay of their two very distinct voices.

The album starts with "The Bleeding" a perfect opener and representative of what is to come. Beginning with a droning passage that is accompanied by the beautiful guitar work of Jessica Way. Her playing is delicate yet very self-assured, simplistic in structure but carrying with it tons of emotional weight.  Way's guitar is joined by her gorgeous singing soon interplaying with Smith's deep, haunting voice. Vocal duties are shared by the two, exchanging verses of the lyrical poetry on each song, using their voices as instruments. The vocals work along side the simple instrumentation perfectly, giving both chances to shine and present themselves to the listener. Taking nods from dark folk and ethereal music luminaries like Death in June and Dead Can Dance, Barren Harvest create a sound of their own by combining the two. While comparisons can be made to these artists what these two create is something new, seemingly ushering in a new era of dark folk music. One of swirling dream-like synths combined with intricate guitar work.

The album works to slowly and quietly subdue, taking it's time to lodge is haunting melodies in the listener's brain. The album feels as though it was meticulously crafted by the two musicians, both pouring themselves into the project. Every note strummed or sung is deliberate. Working from a seemingly simplistic structure, what they fabricate is anything but. The track "Reveal" exemplifies this, voices cascade in and out, clashing with one another in beautiful harmony while eerie synth and strums of an electric guitar maintain a repetitive backing. Creating something complex out of minimalism. The conceptual structure of the album is also interesting and forces the listener to attempt to understand the member's intentions. The album is divided into two sorts of tracks, the meat of the album is broken up by tracks with the title "Memoriam" these range from ten seconds to nearly seven minutes. The "Memoriam" tracks are less melodic and more ethereal, some consisting of only whispered vocals, some of droning synth, some a combination of both. These juxtaposed against the more straightforward folk tracks creates the perfect contrast of abstraction and accessibility.

What Barren Harvest have achieved through Subtle Cruelties is a true triumph. A somber soundtrack to the changing of the seasons. Rooted in nature, one can hear the crunch of autumns leaves, the whisper of the winter wind, the cold rain of spring, and the birds chirping as summer rears it's head. This album comes highly recommended for any fans of dark/neofolk and for metal fans seeking something more contemplative that still contains a brooding atmosphere. Subtle Cruelties was released by Handmade Birds in a beautiful gatefold CD and LP designed by the prolific Kevin Gan Yuen of Sutekh Hexen and Viraloptic, it can be purchased here.