Spring is in the air, the sun is shining and the daffodils are blooming – so here I am to ruin the mood with the latest copy of Dark Hemyspheres! A refreshed and revitalised Darkest Hour certainly awaken the birds and the bees with Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora , a vicious assault of thoroughly modern American metal delivered with searing heat. A careful balance of destructive rage and astute musicianship results in a record that dishes out a delicious aural drubbing. Despite falling a little flat in the middle of proceedings as a few tracks begin to blur into one another, it ends violently enough to leave a gruesome trail of sore necks and broad grins. The deathly vibe Gallic troubadours Svart Crown infuse into Abreaction  is similarly effective, eventually. A rather slow record to start, it builds up a crushing momentum that eventually gives credence to the term "death metal"; they do a great job of sewing the fundamentals of the genre together without ever going too over-the-top and venturing into the camp. If only it didn't quite so long to get there.
Going the other way however is Eleven Dragons  from Acrimonious. Beginning as a furious, unrelenting blast of gargantuan black metal, it slowly descends into a one-dimensional buzz of background noise. What is initially a terrifying atmosphere brimming with hatred and daemonic malevolence, it finishes up as a tepid and frankly boring slice of over-egged teenage angst. There is no obvious shift in what the band are producing over the course of the seven tracks, it is the mindless repetitiveness that kills the magic. Whilst Pillorian avoid the worst clichés of the genre, neither is Obsidian Arc  the most captivating of listens. Veering more towards the vast icy soundscapes typical of their Scandinavian heroes, they do a reasonable job of maintaining that cold and isolated feeling without becoming a laughable parody that so many do. Yet the album fails to illicit any sort of strong response or offer much to latch on to, giving few reasons to return to something that feels very by-the-numbers.
It appears Dread Sovereign might have gotten bored playing retro proto-doom halfway through the recording of sophomore For Doom The Bell Tolls . By the time this all wraps up, rock 'n' roll, thrash and even krautrock influences have jumped forward to claim a highlight on a surprisingly diverse record; the Venom cover tacked on the end sounds jarring though. Nemtheanga's commanding, pain-ridden roars still dominate and drive, but the welcome variance of the backdrop sparks new life into the project. On the other hand, Pallbearer are becoming ever more sanitised. Heartless  is precisely that; this is horribly unoriginal and utterly devoid of any emotion, an awful falling from grace. Buried inside are a few fine moments, most notably the lead single 'Thrones' that raised such high hopes as the release neared, but these only serve to highlight how bereft of ideas and nuance the rest has become.
Very much in keeping with the new season, sleepmakeswaves have produced a bright and uplifting collection on Made Of Breath Only . One of the few post-rock bands in recent times to consistently feel fresh and sound different, their added emphasis on melody ensures this is also memorable. Although not afraid to drop a hint of darkness into the mix here and there, the sheer joy and energy abounding makes for a wonderful accompaniment on these renewed mornings. Allochiria go in a much gloomier direction with Throes , the second offering from the Greek quintet. Despite using many of the same tricks and structures, the sludgy, dirty take on the style gives it the air of a fantastical Lovecraftian horror tale. It all comes to a head in the outstanding closing track 'Denouement', a ten minute summation of all that is good about this record as it shifts through the gears and dazzles.
It is rare to come across something that is as fascinating yet as harrowing as The Infected Mass  from Those Who Walk Away. An elegant study in minimalistic ambience, supplemented by haunting string phrases that stretch a disconnected web around the drones, it is then the addition of the two spoken word samples that wrench at the stomach. Using conversations from two plane crashes about twenty years ago, this becomes something of a traumatic experience, a listen so tense and engaging as to leave you strung out by its conclusion. In contrast, Teleplasmiste go for the happy-go-lucky, spaced-out kosmische vibe with their debut Frequency Is The New Ecstasy . Whilst certainly meditative and ethereal, a hint of playfulness and joy wafts through and enlivens the experience; this has been done purely for fun, and we are in on it.
It is the darkest of Dark Stars this month as Fen once again produce an album of the most superlative British black metal. Winter  is a maze of a record, filled with intricate winding passages and dark shadows hiding monsters aplenty. It is intimate enough to intimidate, yet also captures scenes of their desolate East Anglian home with shocking vividness. Becoming ever more expansive and richer as the band continues to evolve, they manage to retain the weight and power befitting the genre's finest across the full seventy five minutes. Even in its quieter, more introspective passages, Winter is filled with half-hidden malice and a creeping, inescapable sense of dread. Fen have once again encompassed everything fans want from a full-blown black metal band without falling into any of the pitfalls that almost everyone does; here is another reason more than just I consider this trio the epitome of what this isle has to offer...
Darkest Hour – Godless Prophets & The Migrant Flora (10th, Southern Lord Records)
Svart Crown – Abreaction (3rd, Century Media Records)
Acrimonious – Eleven Dragons (17th, W.T.C. Productions)
Pillorian – Obsidian Arc (10th, Eisenwald)
Dread Sovereign – For Doom The Bell Tolls (3rd, Ván Records)
Pallbearer – Heartless (24th, Nuclear Blast Records)
sleepmakeswaves – Made Of Breath Only (31st, Pelagic Records)
Allochiria – Throes (17th, Art Of Propaganda)
Those Who Walk Away – The Infected Mass (17th, Constellation Records)
Teleplasmiste – Frequency Is The New Ecstasy (31st, House Of Mythology)
Fen – Winter (10th, code666)