Monday, October 13, 2014

Grst - Plague Seed (Glossolalia Records)

What struck me immediately about Grst's first full length is the amount of confidence that is contained in the four tracks that make up Plague Seed. While the band materialized in 2009, they did not release something until earlier this year. Besides a one track on a split, the band's first release, the band put out an EP of Weakling cover songs. While the covers were brilliantly executed and did the American masters justice, it seemed odd. One would think a band with this much talent would put their efforts into composing their own material, working with original ideas and expanding. Let alone releasing a tape of covers can be risky, some may see it as a sign of unsureness and honestly I did.

Enter Plague Seed an album which was composed in 2009, according to an interview with the ever excellent Western Lamb. What Grst has brought us defies all worries I had about the bands potential for growth. An album that is characterized by its mastery and ambition. All three members of Grst have been in a litany of excellent projects linked to the Glossolalia family; the harsh noise wall act Willowbrook, the violent math-addled blackened crust of Banewreaker, and the hallucinogenic teach-death outfit Arkhum among a slew of others. The three musicians combine their obvious skill and knowledge of dark and heavy sounds to create something that will leave black metal devotees stunned and completely convinced.

Grst continues the American tradition of pushing the boundaries of black metal forward. Their style calls to mind Northwestern American luminaries and of course Weakling. Grst's vision, however, is far less limited in scope than many of their so called "Cascadian" counterparts. They play black metal that is completely immersed in the expansive nature of the transcendent style yet still retains a firm grasp on aggression and cathartic release. Take "Plague Seed" the album's opening track. While the riffs are cloaked in the mystical buzz of the mountainous Northwest there is lingering traces of pure devastation. The track itself is a furious blast-beat driven cathartic experience. Vocalist Kenneth Parker barks and screeches powerfully over the ripping aggression of both guitar and bass of Nathanael Kelley and Joshua Vincent.

Noise influence takes hold on the interlude track "Abandon" consisting of an airy, ominous drone accompanied by somber guitar. The track is calming and indicative of the moments of clarity exist throughout the album. This contemplative nature shows itself again during the opening minutes of "Pondering the Wastes." Twin guitars entwine their melodies and bring with them a sense of longing. This signals the torrential, mesmerizing riffing to come that is unleashed when the song begins to rip forward. The guitars continue to weave melodies as the track descends into a more aggressive state. The contrast Grst creates between moments of mournful reflection and driving rage is exactly what separates them from a slew of bands playing atmospheric black metal. The wide variety of emotional weight contained in the debut is overwhelming. Rage, mourning, tension, and release all exist within the onslaught. The musicianship exhibited by each of the bands three members is astounding, again showing self-assurance. Vocalist Parker is able to navigate between coarse rasps and hollow sounding growls with precision. Both Kelley and Vincent handle guitars and their work is equally impressive. Cascading riffs collide with one another creating the furious and meditative sound that emanates from the album.

Plague Seed took me by surprise. I in no way expected an album of this scope and magnitude. Ripping black fury is contrasted with sweeping and entrancing melodies, taking cues from a multitude of styles while still maintaining a sound that is completely Grst. Plague Seed is available from Glossolalia records in digital and vinyl formats here. If you are a fan of black metal either in its purest of forms or in its more expansive wanderings don't sleep on Grst.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: Venowl / Highgate (Tartarus Records) & Cara Neir / Venowl (Broken Limbs Recordings)

Venowl is an enigmatic group. The three members choose to represent themselves with symbols; ::, //, and ][. The band creates some of the most caustic and disjointed music to ever grace these ears. Doom, black metal, noise, and general disregard for convention are combined to create something wholly earth shattering and devastatingly depraved. Lurching and ominous the band utilizes improvisation to create their horrid, torturous sonic landscapes. The band has seen two new releases in the months of September and October, both splits and both are nothing less than expressions of sonic torment. On each split Venowl is joined by an equally groundbreaking and impressive band. Both Highgate and Cara Neir easily match Venowl's jagged intensity with more structured pieces, Highgate brings lumbering blackened doom while Cara Neir drags the listener through swarming, diverse black metal.

Venowl / Highgate

September saw the release of a split between Venowl and Highgate. Venowl begins with "Vacant Cellar" a song without defined structure or reason. The track continues the Venowl tradition of being completely disjointed and improvised, however it is more structural and rhythmic than much of Venowl's music. Taking on more of a doom-like structure the band experiments within those confines. However, the band does no use this as a limitation, instead utilizing the loose structure to further enhance their descent into madness. Slowing moving towards oblivion, painful shrieks usher in layer upon layer of madness. Feedback slices through the grime accompanying the manic screams and shouts. Where Venowl truly succeed is in creating sickening atmosphere. Conjuring images of an old vacant house, filled with an aura of horrible deeds and broken bones. A place of destruction and most importantly a place of torture. Living up to the description of "torture doom" and completely embodying all that is horrific and depraved.

Highgate also implements elements of black metal and noise into their murky doom. Considerably more riff based and structured than Venowl, Highgate provide the listener with a more traditional and in some ways comprehensible take a similar formula. This is not to say that "Carved into Winter" is easy listening by any means. The Kentucky quartet offers up spirit-breaking doom, massive riffs collide with crashing drums and vicious rasps and grunts. Utilizing repetition as a tool for complete annihilation Highgate drags the listener deeper and deeper into their horrid cave. Ghastly melodies accompany the sludge addled riffs, suddenly the track dissolves abstraction. Pulsating rays of noise fade in and out creating a disorienting interlude to the rest of Highgate's track. Taking a more mournful form the track progresses slowly before disintegrating into feedback, ending the excellent work. 

The split can be heard and purchased here through Tartarus Records. A triumph of blackened doom, and a perfect pairing of two bands with different takes on the same devastating combination.

Cara Neir / Venowl

The second split is forthcoming. A reunion between Venowl and Cara Neir set to be released by Broken Limbs Recordings in mid-October. Cara Neir opens the split with three tracks of screamo influenced, post-hardcore injected, crusty black metal. Vocalist Chris Francis uses his powerful voice to push the songs to further levels of intensity while multi-instrumentalist Garry Brents displays his immense talent on each instrument. Playing everything from ripping hardcore chords to reflective even jazz-like melodies. Opening with "Aeonian Temple" with technicality at the forefront, Brents plays riffs like a madman while Francis offers frantic barks. The second and third tracks take on more reflective tones. "Nights..." sounds akin to the lighter moments 90s screamo artists like Saetia, utilizing harmonies and calm echoed vocals. The track provides the perfect amount of reflection before "Pitiful Human Bindings" rears its head. Combining the best parts of the first two tracks, ripping aggression and cryptic reflection. Madness and contemplation are joined as one, creating a track unconcerned with any sort of tradition, merely following the creative will of two immensely talented musicians. With their contributions on this split Cara Neir prove yet again that they are one of the most interesting and inventive bands currently active.

Venowl's track "Scour (Parts I and II)" is again another journey into the deepest abyss of the darkest aspects human consciousness. A completely soulless evil which takes the form of disjointed, dragged out chords, pained shrieks, and spastic drumming. Trudging through the mire, sickeningly dense and calamitous. The improvisational beast could only be described as ugly, completely without any trace of human attachment. The whole track is a confusing and harrowing journey deep into the minds of the three nameless specters. Formless and yet containing remnants of structure shaped by completely ruinous riffs. When a structural riff rears its head it becomes all the more powerful, cutting its way through the murky mess of incoherent chords and triumphantly presenting itself as supremely devastating. Venowl's contribution to this split is corrosive and scathing, providing the listener with layer upon layer of discord and bleak expressionism.

A union of two very different bands create something wholly unlike any other split release I have ever come across. A true testament to the fragmented nature of man. The tape will be available from Broken Limbs Recordings soon.