Dark Buddha Rising – Dakhmandal

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Dark Buddha Rising titled Dakhmandal, released via Svart Records.

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Tracklisting:
1. D
2. K
3. H
4. M
5. N
6. L

Mark your calendars: June 7th, 2013 is going to be the day a new highwater mark is achieved in the drone/doom/sludge space. That’s the day Dark Buddha Rising’s new album, ‘Dakhmandal’ drops.

Few artists emerging from this space have made this kind of impact on me since, oh Orthodox and Khanate before them. When I first heard of Dark Buddha Rising, I assumed they’d be a slightly kraut-y, psychedelic/stoner jam outfit like the excellent but very different My Sleeping Karma. If you need to take a moment to shake your head in dismay at the shallowness of my thought processes, go ahead, I’ll wait. Oh good, you’re back. Well, when I heard Dark Buddha Rising’s previous album, 2011’s ‘Abyssolute Transfinite’, I realized how wrong I was. This is hermetic music, obscure and even oppressive, yet with a compelling, mesmeric atmosphere. Sparse, deconstructed passages co-exist with supermassive, dense sequences that feel like sludge metal played inside a black hole. The final impression is one of incredible heaviness, but in a ritualistic and leftfield manner.

Dakhmandal ably carries on with the band’s campaign of esoteric sonic persecution, refining it to a new peak of majesty and authority. This is completely uncompromising music, music that you have to work towards understanding, and that can be an incredibly refreshing experience after the wash of US sludge bands miming the sounds of post-peak Mastodon or Baroness. If you’re at all into heavy music, you don’t always want to be pulled along by hooks, accessible melodies and catchy vocals. Sometimes you need to listen to music that is shaped by individualism, integrity and some very twisted yet absolutely brilliant and original sensibilities.

If so, the cycle of songs on this album will serve as a series of destinations on a grueling but rewarding sonic journey. These songs may well stand on their own, but it’s clear that they were meant to be listened to as a suite.

 

 

The opening song, ‘D’ begins with the faintest hints of sound – the stray feedback artifact, a distant almost-drone that keens to itself in darkness. Three minutes in, a simple bass pulse emerges out of this mysterious soundscape. The ritual has begun. Melody starts to insinuate itself, ever so subtly, into this realm of antediluvian rhythm and drone. The claustral atmosphere opens out, as if we’re emerging from a cave into bright starlight, into the kind of atmosphere created by an Om song. ‘K’ plunges us into the world of craggy, overdriven guitars and sludgy riffs. Hollow, incantatory vocals invite us deeper into the mysteries of an unfolding catechism. The song shifts gear into a drawn-out spacey, downtempo jam before building up to a sludgy finale. ‘H’ is another serving of mountainous riffs, moving at geological speed, like a slightly less ponderous Khanate. Aggressive stasis defines this song, as opposed to the shifting musical textures of the previous tracks. This is a Sargasso Sea of sound that is eventually swallowed in mist and squall. ‘M’ strips away the sludge metal appurtenances to take us into a vaulted chamber where a mutated organ vies with other droning layers. Then, a simple, pulsating guitar melody signals a shift into something that I can best describe as shamanic. Seriously, nevermind the Morrison bollocks, this is the real deal. At times, the warm, sunshiny, mystical feel of this song reminds me of those masters of the drone, Earth, but more occult and less Cormac McCarthy. The spirits have certainly been invited to this feast. The song closes out with some wall-to-wall riffing and vocals that are reminiscent of Yob’s more mantra-like moments. ‘N’ continues mine the same vein of monumental riffs, cavernous atmosphere and transcendental sludge. How do you close out an album like this? The last track, ‘L’ takes its time coalescing out of a wash of feedback and almost disjointed drumming. Ominous, fervent vocal proclamations issue from a preacher’s pulpit, but one that is obviously stationed in some cavernous subterranean cathedral to an unknown deity. Distant, soaring choruses float behind veils of sheer noise – and then there’s a simple, insistent groove which emerges as a focus for a pulsing, hypnotic song with weird chants and harsh invocations hovering just out of reach.  It’s a monumental ending, full of restraint, power and an unusual widdershins grace.

Some have described this music as dirge-like, but I think it’s more than that. Something is being celebrated here, but it is not of the daylit world we imagine we inhabit. This is bigger than Satanism or paganism. It’s an initiation into the mysteries of the sonic arcana. After three self-released albums, this is Dark Buddha Rising’s first album to be released by an external label – Svart Records. Credit is due to Svart for having the vision to take on this 80-minute exercise in sound as ritual. This is a band and a record that deserves a wider audience, although the uncompromising intensity and uniqueness of their sound necessarily imposes a limit on that audience.

 

Anciients – Heart of Oak

We apologize for the dip in our review rate… Gosh! You ought to know that we’ve got lives as well!!

That said, Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Anciients titled Heart of Oak, released via Season of Mist.

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Tracklisting:

1.  Raise the Sun
2.  Overthrone
3.  Falling in Line
4.  One Foot in the Light
5.  The Longest River
6.  Giants
7.  Faith and Oath
8.  Flood and Fire
9.  For Lisa

Somewhat disingenuously described as ‘progressive metal with extreme metal elements’ or ‘progressive stoner metal’, Anciients’ music is modern sludge in the Baroness/Mastodon vein. Remember how quickly those two bands went from crossover powerhouses to meandering, dentured versions of their old selves? Anciients manage to capture the spirit of their forerunners right on the cusp of that shift, not quite putting out the intensity of Remission-era Mastodon, but rarely achieving the bloat of Baroness’ Blue Album.

 

 

They’re good musicians – there’s no denying it. They have complex, involving guitar melodies, mile-wide riffs and a powerhouse rhythm section. It’s hard not to be drawn in by the energy and musicianship of this material. Still, ‘Overthrone’ sounds too much like an attempt to channel the chug and vocal delivery of ‘Leviathan’. Building from a clean, melodic opening, ‘Falling In Line’ has a compelling ferocity and a nicely eastern-tinged solo as well. The puling bassline provides a great underpinning to the questing, flowing dual-guitar lines. ‘The Longest River’ mixes in classic metal melody and touches of both Baroness and Opeth in music and vocal delivery.  ‘Faith and Oath’ showcases some of those extreme metal influences with an opening that could almost have been battle-ready old school death metal with a slightly different sound. However, we’re soon back in the loping, noodly modern sludge space. The vocals are too cheesy for my taste, both the melodic, soaring voice and the cartoonish cookie monster growl, but your mileage may vary. The rest of the songs are basically cut from the same cloth, apart from the flowing, melodic jam ‘For Lisa’.

Anciients have a lot of talent. Nearly every song contains great riffs, intricate and effective arrangements and balls-out brilliant playing by everyone in the band. I’m less convinced about their song craft, and about the derivative nature of their music. This style of melodic, epic sludge metal hasn’t proven to have much staying power, with the pioneers of the genre rapidly diluting their own formula. Perhaps the prog aspirations will prove to be Anciients’ saving grace, compelling them to move away from the fortuitous but somewhat shallow pool of zeitgeist influences they’re currently channeling. They certainly have the chops for it, and perhaps it’s time there was an alternative to the Dream Theater paradigm of prog metal.

Stream the entire album below:

Hexvessel – Iron Marsh (EP)

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new EP from Hexvessel titled Iron Marsh released via Svart Records.

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Tracklisting:

1. Masks Of The Universe
2. Superstitious Currents
3. The Tunnel At The End Of The Light (Redux)
4. Woman Of Salem (Yoko Ono cover Feat. Rosie from Purson)
5.  Don’t Break The Curse (Feat. Alia from Blood Ceremony)

‘Dawnbringer’ was an auspicious debut for Hexvessel, bringing them to the attention of the growing occult doom scene, even though they don’t really play doom, or didn’t at that point, and getting them a slot at the Roadburn festival. Their second full-length, ‘No Holier Temple’ added a wider sonic range, including electric guitars. The album was also darker, more varied and heavier – without resorting to generic strategies – than its predecessor, which felt a bit whispy, a hair’s breath away from twee at times. Make no mistake, Hexvessel are still playing psychedelic folk music, but they’ve moved from being a potential novelty act into something that has the power and scope to appeal to fans of seminal neofolk acts like Current 93.

The ‘Iron Marsh’ EP carries on with this trend, opening with a moody epic track called ‘Masks of the Universe’ where incantatory vocals and folksy fiddles co-exist with almost gothic electric guitars. ‘Superstitious Currents’ is more folksy, with an elegiac tone and brooding, droning strings contrasting with the lucid fiddle melodies and percussive backbone. ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’ is a remake of a track from ‘Dawnbearer’. This new setting underscores the evolution of the band’s sound. The original version was sparser, acoustic, more overtly folk. This time there are electric guitars and keyboards and a conventional drumkit, as well as female backing vocals in place of Carl-Michael Eide’s guest vocals, but the song hasn’t lost its darkly beautiful mood. The arrangement is less craggy, but it hasn’t exchanged character for volume.

Hexvessel have made the transition from something akin to a darker, more pagan (and less eccentric) The Incredible String Band to something closer to the magnificent blend of folk music (and mood) with rock instrumentation achieved by Jethro Tull on ‘Heavy Horses’ and they make good use of the expanded resources afforded by this transition. The Yoko Ono cover, ‘Woman Of Salem’ carries on with Hexvessel’s tradition of oddball cover choices, although this one is a lot less obvious yet even more apropos than some. A snaky wah-laced guitar slithers in and out of a thrumming acoustic guitar and keyboard arrangement with dual male and female vocals. The end result is a weird, black magic-haunted song that could easily stand alongside ‘Witchfinder’ by Mandy Morton and Spriguns, a unjustly obscure band from the British folk revival of the 70s (look them up – youtube is your friend!). It’s also worth listening to Yoko Ono’s original – she’s so much more than just the woman who supposedly broke up The Beatles. The last track, ‘Don’t Break The Curse’ starts strongly and has some great spoken word bits, but feels a bit over-extended by the time it finishes.

I don’t think this EP marks another step forward in Hexvessel’s stylistic growth, but I also think they are at a point where they can afford to consolidate the gains they’ve made in extending their sonic palette rather than venturing into further experimentation. As such, ‘Iron Marsh’ shows off the strengths of their current approach and serves as an effective appetiser for the next full-length.

Evangelist – Doominicanes

Today we have Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviewing the new album from Evangelist titled Doominicanes, released via Doomentia Records.

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Tracklisting:
1. Blood Curse
2. Pain and Rapture
3. Deadspeak
4. To Praise, to Bless, to Preach
5. Militis Fidelis Deus

Ah, the children of Candlemass, what beautiful music they make! Evangelist lack the prog edge of Solitude Aeturnus or Forsaken, or the raw Satanic appeal of the lesser-known Angel Of Damnation, instead channeling the lugubrious essence of classic Candlemass songs like ‘Solitude’ and ‘Samarithan’. When I heard their debut album, ‘In Partibus Infidelium’ I was struck by the skill, expressiveness and melodic beauty of the lead vocals, very much in the tradition of Johan Langqvist, rather than Messiah Marcolin’s more tremolo-laced vocals, as much as the lead guitar work. In that sense, the band was able to compensate to some extent for the stately majesty that characterizes their songs – a stateliness that verges on the static, without transcending into the profound dolor of funeral doom.

 

 

It’s much the same story on the follow-up, the somewhat cheesily-titled ‘Doominicanes’. The songs here are filled with great, long-lined, melancholy melodies, extended and well-crafted guitar solos and emotive, tuneful vocals. The only problem is that there isn’t very much distinctive here – there are few melodies and hooks that stand out, and very little change in pace from song to song, leave alone within songs. In this sense, they may described as aiming for the monumental pacing of Reverend Bizarre, but the more bleak, stripped-down riffing style practiced by that band was a better fit for this approach, lending it a befitting, bottom-heavy heaviness. This kind of epic doom, however, is more overtly rooted in classic metal, especially NWOBHM, and as such it needs a wider dynamic range to bring out its full scope.

There are some highlights – notably ‘Deadspeak’ which has a few interesting melodic turns and a relatively catchy chorus. The last song, ‘Militis Fidelis Deus’ also reaches a plateau of epic grandeur. And none of the other material is ever less than pleasing in its musicianship and melody. It’s just not varied enough or impactful enough in its sameness of effect. It’s a great album for the die-hard traditional doom addict who needs something to listen to in between revisiting the greats of the genre, but this group of doom evangelists need to add a few new strains to their psalm book if they want to make a convert of me.

Cultes Des Ghoules – Henbane

Today we have reviewer Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviewing the new LP from Cultes Des Ghoules titled Hexbane, released via Hells Headbangers.

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Tracklist:
01. Idylls Of The Chosen Damned
02. The Passion Of A Sorceress
03. Vintage Black Magic
04. Festival Of Devotion
05. The Devil Intimate

When it’s all said and done, black metal is at its best when it is absolutely morbid and twisted, when it evokes a palpable miasma of the unclean, unholy and occult. Genre pioneers Mayhem nailed this vile, eerie atmosphere with the ponderous guitar layers and unearthly vocals of De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas.  And if that kind of vibe is your cup of tea, no sorry, your splintered bone-goblet of brackish moonshine laced with hallucinogenic herbs, you’re ready to join the acolytes of the Polish black metal sect that goes by the name of Cultes Des Ghoules.

Another one of those orthodox black metal collectives that veils its individual identities, Cultes Des Ghoules established a reputation for crushing black metal that projects an undeniable aura of primal evil and dark rituals with their first album, Haxan, and they’re back to unleash a new set of pandemonic chants and horrific soundscapes.

Stream the album below…now!!!!!

The first thing that stands out is the sound – it’s thick, dense, not at all crudely produced, but still somehow raw and oppressive. The guitar tones are just that little bit over the top in true black metal form, and the drummer varies between fast, double bass-anchored parts and lurching, tribal patterns. This makes the drum work an integral part of the atmospheric effort, not just a faceless obligato running its fleet-footed way in complete disregard of the musical context. The vocals are utterly ghoulish, as indeed they ought to be, and if someone told me the being that uttered these rasping chants and guttural cries was in fact some graveyard-scouring, subterranean monstrosity from a Lovecraft story, I wouldn’t have too much trouble believing them.

The songs are frequently bracketed in brief atmospheric melodies and a restrained use of samples that add to the uncanny atmosphere. Highlights include the rank ululations and simple yet darkly insinuating guitars of ‘The Passion of a Sorceress’ and the acolyte-march riffage and swooning vocal invocations of ‘Festival of Devotion’, but there really isn’t a false step here. These 5 songs are lengthy, hypnotic and completely effective in their creation of an atmosphere of obscure horror. This isn’t the kind of black metal that will dazzle hipsters with an eclectic mix of influences or appeal to the mainstream metal crowd with epic guitar solos and technical drumming. Instead, it’s the equivalent of the kind of horror movie I keep hoping they’ll make some day, something with the lush atmosphere and visceral horror of a Dario Argento film, crossed with the immediacy and immersion of a found-footage film. That’s a combination which we may never see; but in the meantime, Cultes Des Ghoules is putting out the same mix of rich texture and engaging spontaneity, all in service of a chillingly effective whole, in musical form.