Incorporating The Music Fix
16th October 2013 09:47:00
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Dark Hemyspheres: October 2013

The rich colours of autumn are once again painting a vivid picture across London's dull grey cityscape. A month of growing darkness, death and decay can provide rich inspirational pickings for those inclined, so without much further ado...

Last time I reviewed Ihsahn I berated him for become a little stale and ploughing the same furrow repeatedly. But not this time; Das Seelenbrechen [8] sees him once again testing the boundaries of black metal and progressive music. Genre-hopping from the mad claustrophobia of 'Tacit 2' to the ambient jazz of the final 'See', everything is still tied up in his own inimitable style - one oozing class, confidence and heaviness. London's Craven Idol are far more traditional in their approach to black metal, but still succeed in sounding professional and modern in doing so. Towards Eschaton [5] is a ferocious blast that races through half an hour of shredded guitars and ghoulish vocals, a solid if rather unspectacular slice of nefarious headbanging. It might have taken Gehenna eight years to conceive Unravel [3], but the finished product shows no sign of such effort. Sticking rigidly to their old school guns, the appalling narrow and muddy sound only serves to make a dull and derivative album close to unlistenable. They might have once been a part of that infamous Norwegian scene, but past glories count for little when the rest of the world has moved on.

To call them journeymen may seem a little harsh, but the individual components of Hail Of Bullets have been around the musical block a few times. Now onto their third outing of war-themed old school death metal bombardments, III The Rommel Chronicles [7] sounds like they are just having a vast amount of fun. Ten tracks based on the military career of the infamous general, this is as uncompromising as it is enjoyable, unpretentious and brutal. Young Midlands upstarts Merciless Terror are also tapping into the rich vein of inspiration that are the gory legends of yore. Debut cut Vile Extinction [5] is a valiant attempt that does little wrong, but is ultimately a touch characterless. All the obvious influences are there, but nothing to mark this out as anything different or special. Exhumer on the other hand sounds like a parody, a joke that extrapolates all the clichés of the genre well beyond breaking point. Degraded By Sepsis [2] is a mess of tuneless, monotonous riffs punctured too often by random harmonics whilst the vocals are more reminiscent of someone noisily vomiting.

This is not the Monster Magnet you think you remember, all brash and cocky and raucous playing endlessly on late night music channels. Last Patrol [7] is one of the grooviest records I've heard all year, a distinctly stoner collection with a real swagger and laid-back air of cool. But it is that mellower vibe that has come with an older, wiser Dave Wyndorf, one that commands more respect and allows those deliciously heavy riffs to swim around and around and around... You feel Red Fang should be heavier than they actually are, that their punch is not quite as forceful as first impressions suggest. Not that there aren't such moments on Whales And Leeches [6], but the melodious qualities that run rife means this is more a bopping stoner rock than a moshing variety. A dollop of playful enjoyment is never to be sniffed at, especially in a scene that can take itself a little too seriously at times, so this light relief is certainly to be welcomed.

Pelican have been the perpetual bridesmaids at the post-rock party for the last decade, respected but always following in others footsteps. A break and slight line-up shift would you hope add some impetus, but unfortunately Forever Becoming [6] is very much more of the same. A very promising start, especially with the cracking 'Deny The Absolute', soon fizzles out and descends into a pleasant but unremarkable listen. Instrumental post-rock is a notoriously difficult brand of music to try and keep interesting for an entire album, a trick very few have managed. Newcomers Tides From Nebula are clearly influenced by Pelican and their ilk, the difference though here is that Eternal Movement [7] shows far greater urgency. It has an immediacy that gets your attention, and although they may not as yet be able to hold it for the entire duration of the record, they are already ahead of many of their more illustrious peers.

Collections of rare tracks are always going to be patchy at best – there's usually a reason as to why the tracks don't appear on albums – and Tragic Illusion 25 [6], celebrating twenty five years of the forever gloomy Paradise Lost, is no different. However, there are certainly moments here to make this a worthy addition to the collection of any fan. The two rare orchestral versions from the excellent Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us are wonderfully dramatic reinterpretations worthy of headline billing here. Their cover of 'Missing' by Everything But The Girl is somewhat surreal, a far bleaker but less ethereal version than the original, whilst the new recordings of 'Gothic' and 'Our Saviour' are much meatier than their first incarnations. Cleanteeth's approach to doom is significantly more violent as they exhibit an angry reaction to the despair all around. Pulling Rope [5] verges on hardcore in sound and structure, something akin to a brawl in slow motion. The poor electronic messes that break up the album also disrupt the flow of momentum, and it would be a better work without their inclusion.

I really should like Sunray with the driving krautrock rhythms and pulsating, cheery guitars. Alas, all Jon Chambers has done on third offering Full Circle [4] is take NEU!'s 'Hallogallo' and stretch it out over an entire album with precious little relief. It isn't too long before the hypnotic beat simply turns into weary boredom, and eventually an unnoticed background noise. With second album Ihminen [5], Seremonia are continuing to explore a heady and psychedelic mix of Jefferson Airplane with Black Sabbath. An interesting idea, but it never quite catches fire as too often they stray from emulation to simply copying riffs and hooks. It lacks the true shock factor that the best around have, that magic sparkle that makes you sit up and go "what the hell!?" time and again. The same can also be said about guitarist Teemu Markkula's other band Death Hawks as they too reach their sophomore release. Death Hawks [4] takes a more laid-back approach, but in reality all this achieves is a shorter route to tedium. An album that potters along at a lackadaisical pace, it is very much "away with the fairies" with little sign of ever showing a spark of originality or creativity.

Canucks Protest The Hero have always trodden a very fine line between self-parody and blinding musicianship. Having got the balance wrong last time around, Volition [7] is something of an improvement. Obtuse lyrics and cutting wit, mixed with a dose of juvenile delinquency, add light relief to a dizzying blur of frenetic guitars that appear to have ADHD. Equally deranged, Antlered Man are quickly earning themselves an enviable reputation, one that This Devil Is Them! [7] is only going to add to. Twisted and dark, the record bounds all over the place, neither one thing nor another. There is a strong vein of catchy melodiousness that runs through the madness binding it all together and meaning they won't be forgotten quickly. Quite possibly their rockiest and most direct album yet, Oceans Of Time [5] is by comparison pretty dull. Touchstone, relying ever more upon front-woman Kim Seviour (for obvious reasons) sit squarely in the middle of the nu-prog wave with little to mark them out as anything special. Too long by twenty minutes, it is all too easy for this to slip out of mind.

Dirk Serries has been busy again creating another set of lush, dreamlike drones with little more than a guitar, a few effects and a wanderlust imagination. Working under the name tonefloat:ikon, this three part vinyl series, as the name Streams Of Consciousness [7] suggests, is a minimalistic collection of improvisations committed to tape on three days in June. Each track takes up a complete side, giving them time to morph and evolve, but still keeping a lid on each so they don't drift off into the mindless void that this style of music is always, by its very nature, flirting with. So inviting and relaxing, the gentle tones induce a state of blissful thoughtlessness, a little bubble into which one can retreat from the hectic world of real life.

Very few bands can claim to match the diversity and complexity Ulver have shown over their career, and Messe I.X-VI.X [9] is yet another masterpiece to add to their cannon. Based upon live recordings the band did with the Tromsř Chamber Orchestra and then refined/messed/played with in the studio, this is a mesmerising collusion between classical and electronic music. Very much designed with the orchestra centre stage and the electronic musings then flitting in and around ensures that the two meld beautifully into this lush, absorbing record. Ulver are one of the few artists around in the experimental scene today who could have pulled off something as audacious and daring as something like Messe I.X-VI.X, and in doing so have created one of the finest pieces of music this year.

Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen (21st, Candlelight Records)
Craven Idol – Towards Eschaton (14th, Dark Descent Records)
Gehenna – Unravel (14th, Indie Recordings)
Hail Of Bullets – III The Rommel Chronicles (28th, Metal Blade Records)
Merciless Terror – Vile Extinction (7th, Devil's Clause Records)
Exhumer – Degraded By Sepsis (14th, Comatose Records)
Monster Magnet – Last Patrol (21st, Napalm Records)
Red Fang – Whales And Leeches (14th, Relapse Records)
Pelican – Forever Becoming (14th, Southern Lord)
Tides From Nebula – Eternal Movement (7th, Long Branch Records)
Paradise Lost – Tragic Illusion 25 (21st, Century Media)
Cleenteeth – Pushing Rope (14th, Dullest Records)
Sunray – Full Circle (7th, Enraptured Records)
Seremonia – Ihminen (21st, Svart Records)
Death Hawks – Death Hawks (14th, Cargo Records)
Protest The Hero – Volition (28th, Spinefarm Records)
Antlered Man – This Devil Is Them! (14th, New Heavy Sounds Records)
Touchstone – Oceans Of Time (7th, Hear No Evil)
tonefloat:ikon – Streams Of Consciousness (14th, Tonefloat Records)
Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X (7th, Kscope)

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