The Listening Chaos – August 2016
For me, the end of August means two things: the start of a new academic year (in the real world, I teach college English) and ragweed season, which means that this month’s installment of The Listening Chaos comes to you from a fog of freshman essays and sinus meds. As a result, this month’s column might seem a bit scattered or slight, but that’s not a reflection on this month’s new releases. In fact, August might have been the strongest month yet this year, and all three of this month’s Albums of the Month may well end up in my year-end top 5. So without any further ado…
August’s Albums of the Month
Blood Incantation – Starspawn
Aside from possibly the new Neurosis record, the debut full-length from Colorodo’s cosmic death metallers Blood Incantation is probably the album I was most looking forward to this year. I was really impressed by last year’s Interdimensional Extinction EP, and the advanced word on Starspawn was so overwhelmingly positive that I was afraid my expectations going in were way too high. I needn’t have worried: Starspawn is damn near a masterpiece, straddling the line between the so-called ‘cavernous’ or old-school death metal that Dark Descent is increasingly becoming known for and something a little more technical, not unlike the Chth’eilist album from back in January. Part of the credit for the more technical sound is probably due to the fact that the band added Jeff Barrett on fretless bass, but the biggest difference between this record and the EP is that the band seems to have grown more confident as songwriters, even being so bold as to kick the record off with the nearly 14-minute “Vitrification of Blood (Part I).” The track has enough momentum and movement that it never feels anywhere near that long, though, which is also true for the album as a whole, which clocks in at a brisk 35 minutes is over way too soon. This one not only holds up to repeated listens, but also basically demands them.
Mizmor – Yodh
This album was really only peripherally on my radar until I got an advanced copy for a piece I was writing for another metal blog, and it completely blew me away. Go figure – another boundary-pushing gem of a black metal record from Gilead Media, who all but have the market cornered on boundary-pushing black metal (Krallice, False, Dead to a Dying World, Anicon, Pale Chalice, etc). Lone member A.L.N. is working with familiar elements on Yodh—droning squalls of feedback, paint-peelingly corrosive doom, frenetic second wave black metal—but he combines those elements in ways that make each of them not only seem new, and the album as a whole is both deeply unsettling and unexpectedly cathartic. The highlight is the second track, “A Semblance Warning,” which opens innocuously enough with a soft acoustic section but ends in truly harrowing fashion with some of the most despondent screams I’ve ever heard committed to tape. Also, it’s kind of uncanny how the album’s artwork pairs perfectly with the music contained within—there’s something anxiety-inducing about Zdzislaw Beksinski’s painting, but at the same time I find it difficult to look away.
SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages
I jumped on Salt Lake City prog-doom outfit SubRosa’s bandwagon hard when No Help for the Mighty Ones came out back in 2011. I loved just about everything about that record: the twin violins, the trio of female vocalists, the effortless transitions between dissonance and melody, the progressive, highly literate songwriting. I was a bit underwhelmed, though, by the follow-up, More Constant than the Gods, and approached the new record, which is a concept album based on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s 1924 dystopian novel We (which I read in anticipation of this record, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to do so to enjoy the record), with more than a little trepidation. Not only is it a return to form for the band, it’s also probably the best thing they’ve ever done. For This We Fought the Battle of Ages takes the aforementioned elements that made Mighty Ones so enjoyable and perfects them. In particular, the vocals—which, if I’m being honest, I’ve always felt were the weakest part of the band’s sound—are much stronger and confident-sounding. With its six songs clocking in at a little over 63 minutes, the album does require a bit of patience, but it’s more than worth it. I really hope somebody brings this band to Indy.
Devil to Pay – A Bend Through Space and Time
So if you read my interview with DTP guitars/vocalist Steve Janiak (and if you haven’t, you can do so here), you know that Bryan and I been fans of his for quite a while. I think this new Devil to Pay record ranks up there with the best stuff he’s ever done; it’s certainly the best DTP album to date: riffs upon riffs upon riffs, and Janiak still has one of my favorite voices in all of metal – it’s probably the most versatile and expressive voice this side of Dax Riggs. There’s not a weak song on this one.
For a fuller review, you can read what Chris had to say about it here.
Hellbringer – Awakened from the Abyss
Good lord, these dudes sound like Reign in Blood era Slayer. In fact, this is easily the best Slayer album since God Hates us All. I don’t even care that it isn’t actually Slayer. I prefer to think that the band that released Repentless isn’t actually Slayer, either.
Imperium Dekadenz – Dis Manibvs
Albums I Almost Didn’t Listen to This Month, Part I: based solely on the spelling of their name, I figured Imperium Dekadenz was going to be either some mallcore/deathcore bullshit or a fifth-wave Gothenburg wannabe. Fortunately, it’s neither; Dis Manibvs is melodic, triumphant black metal of the highest order.
Marsh Dweller – The Weight of Sunlight
Introspective one-man melodic/folk black metal? You know I’m all over this. Especially when the one man in question is John Owen Kerr, who also plays drums in the always-excellent Seidr. If you’re into Falls of Rauros or Harakiri for the Sky, you’re going to want to check this out.
Mos Generator – Abyssinia
I know these guys have been around for a minute, and I know they get a lot of love around Indy, but this is the first record of theirs I’ve actually listened to. I’m pleasantly surprised by it. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting—something stoner/doom, probably—but there’s a 90’s alt-metal/grunge vibe to it that I’m really digging. This has been my go-to record for cardio at the gym the last couple of weeks.
Necromancing the Stone – Jewel of the Vile
Albums I Almost Didn’t Listen to This Month, Part II: man, really expected to hate this record, and not just because of the cheesiness of the band’s name. Necromancing the Stone is a supergroup of sorts, featuring guitarist James Malone of Arsis (who I’ve never really liked), bassist Bart Williams (ex-The Black Dahlia Murder) and vocalist Big John Williams of Brimstone Coven (meh). This record’s a lot of fun, though – a little thrashy, some power metal influences, and a lot of old-school heavy metal vibes.
Russian Circles – Guidance
As far as I’m concerned, Russian Circles can do no wrong, and Guidance is another excellent record from the Chicago instru/post-metal trio. Part of what I love about this band is their sense of restraint; guitarist Mike Sullivan in particular is so good at creating textures, both in terms of what he plays and the times when he lays back and lets bassist Brian Cook (also of Sumac) and ace drummer Dave Turncrantz carry the song. They’re also one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen.
Spirit Adrift – Chained to Oblivion
Big, melodic trad metal/doom in the vein of Khemmis and Slough Feg. I’m a sucker for this kind of stuff, especially when you throw in a healthy dose of twin guitar acrobatics a la Thin Lizzy or Iron Maiden. Hella good stuff.
Wretch – Wretch
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that The Gates of Slumber is probably the most important band to ever come out of Indianapolis, and I know a lot of people are glad to hear Karl Simon making music again. This record is a really solid slab of Sabbath/St. Vitus influenced doom; it’s dark, it’s bluesy, and it’s fantastic. the particular highlight for me is “Bloodfinger.” That guitar tone makes me all kinds of happy.
Chris reviewed this one, too. You can check it out here.