There’s been a bit of a slow-down in my reviews recently. There’s a few reasons for this, but the main one I’ll highlight is Sunless Sea. It’s one of the most addictive games I’ve played in a very long time, and one where the music and sound really enhances the atmosphere – and atmosphere is one thing this game does so well. So, rather than spending my time with extreme metal, I’ve been spending it in a version of Victorian London that was stolen by bats. And yeah, I know this may be the April edition and it’s being published in May, but I’m sure you’ll forgive me, even if the Sea will not.
I’ve still found some time for music though, and April’s short reviews include the demo EP from atmospheric black metal band Arête ; Black Absinthe‘s mix of hard rock and metal; riff-heavy, adventurous post-metal from Close The Hatch; British legends Diamond Head‘s self-titled album; blackened crust viciousness by Forced; and raw black metal by Haxen.
Arête – Demo EP
Label: Fragile Branch
The involvement of Paul Ravenwood (of Twilight Fauna) brought Arête to my attention, and I’m very glad it did. For a demo, this EP is remarkably acomplished, and doesn’t feel as if it’s too far away from being the finished article. Two lengthy tracks of atmospheric black metal with folk touches take the listener on a journey through mountains and forests all but untouched but human hands, the feeling being one of cleansing and renewal, with the band blending acoustic, sparse sections with black metal intensity in ways that feel organic and natural. Whilst this style of black metal is hardly ground-breaking, Arête have an honesty and rawness to them that gives these songs real strength and character. As excellent as this EP is, it hints at greater things to come; this band is definitely one to watch closely.
Black Absinthe – Early Signs of Denial
First off: how metal is that artwork? Thankfully, the music lives up to it. There’s plenty of classic rock and metal in Black Absinthe‘s sound, but also more modern touches that show they’re not stuck in a time-warp, fixated on yesterday’s glories; they’re as familiar with Mastodon and High On Fire as they are Metallica and Iron Maiden. Crucially, they capture the energy and excitement of the early thrash and NWOBHM scenes, with catchy choruses propelled by strong, tuneful vocals. It’s all backed up with some excellent riffs, leads, bass patterns, and drumming that doesn’t need to rely on brute force to impress. Bands like Black Absinthe capture all that is good about both classic and modern metal, and Early Signs Of Denial deserves a far bigger audience than it will probably get. Given the right tour or exposure, these guys could be huge.
Close The Hatch – Death And Resistance
Label: Red Moth Records
It’d be easy to focus on how heavy Death & Resistance is, but that’s only part of the story here. Close The Hatch show that, as well as knowing how to write utterly crushing post-metal, they’re even more skilled at writing actual songs rather than simple collections of riffs. These four tracks are steeped in darkness and danger, both the implied and obvious kinds, and it makes the EP a hugely addictive listen. Something about these songs feels huge, as if each one is part of a much wider narrative, and I especially like the way that the lyrics often hint at so much without making their deeper meaning obvious. Credit also for the relatively concise track-lengths; the longest is only five minutes, which is short for post-metal, and helps ensure the EP holds attention and loses none of its considerable impact. Many other bands could learn a lot from these guys; the rest of us can just enjoy what they’ve created.
Diamond Head – Diamond Head
Label: Dissonance Productions
It’s almost unfair to judge Diamond Head against themselves. With the weight of such history against them, it’s to their tremendous credit that the band have dared to put out something new rather than live off of past glories; especially when some previous attempts have been met with less than favourable reactions. Founding member Brian Tatler has credited new vocalist Ras with re-energising the band, and it shows. Diamond Head haven’t sounded so confident in years, ignoring almost any modern trends in favor of the classic rock and NWOBHM sounds they spearheaded which proved so influential to so many. That’s both the strength and weakness of their self-titled album. There’s no denying how strong the songs on here are, and Ras in particular puts in an excellent performance full of passion, making great use of his vocal range. But aside from the production and a few harsh, heavier moments, there’s almost nothing on here that couldn’t have been written in the 80’s, and it doesn’t quite come out of the long shadows cast by Diamond Head’s past. I could live without the chorus of “Wizard’s Sleeve”, too, which is about exactly what you think it’s about. That said, expecting the band to reach the same heights as Lightning To The Nations and Borrowed Time again is completely unreasonable – after all, most bands don’t record albums that good even once in their career. After All Will Be Revealed and What’s In Your Head? might have left fans wondering whether Diamond Head were a spent force, this album proves they are anything but.
Forced – The Vanishing Dark
A few years ago, I was convinced that blackened crust was the most exciting evolution in both genres for some time. These days, I’m increasingly left in a state of despair by how many generic and boring records are being made in the genre. Forced don’t provoke that feeling in me; instead, The Vanishing Dark reminds me of just why I was so excited by this style of music not so long ago. The album has a raw viciousness that many of Forced’s contemporaries lack, giving them a believable sense of danger and violence. It also helps that they don’t just write songs that rely on the more base elements of the style. There’s adventurous, forward-thinking aspects throughout the album, which does justice to its concept, focusing as it does on the artifice on modern, city-dwelling life and the over-abundance of light (which is slightly ironic, given the over-abundance of blackened crust bands as of late). Forced do everything right though, and deserve to stand out among the over-saturated blackened crust scene.
Haxen – Haxen
Label: Eternal Death Records
The first moments of opener “Black Fire Suicide” might hint at Haxen‘s self-titled album being another black metal record in thrall to Wolves In The Throne Room and the like, but it doesn’t take long for that notion to be dispelled. This is harsh, raw black metal that manages to retain enough melody to be catchy and listenable, much in the same way as, say, Horna, as well as barbaric elements that verge upon the bestial. It’s an interesting, powerful mix, making this an album that should be well received in underground circles. These ten tracks are a demonstration of all that is good and powerful in this style of black metal. A kind of ritualistic darkness permeates throughout, aided by a production that keeps all the rough edges intact. We should be used to Eternal Death putting out such superb records by now, but I’m constantly being impressed by just how strong their releases are, and Haxen is no exception.