After a break of, well, much too long, the (hopefully) monthly review round-up is back. Truth be told, I missed writing these, despite the work involved. I intend on publishing these towards the end of each month, covering… well, as always with TSNTW, covering whatever I feel like that I think is worthy of your time. This month’s selection takes in the progressive metal of Khôrada (featuring former member of Agalloch and Giant Squid); high-speed thrash from Black Fast; a first-time on vinyl reissue of a Sarcófago album; dark ambient courtesy of ELMA; punk-infused thrash metal nastiness from Butcher in the Fog; and crushingly negative hardcore from Sense Offender. Enjoy!
Khôrada – Salt
Label: Prophecy Productions
Consisting of three quarters of Agalloch and former Giant Squid vocalist/guitarist Aaron John Gregory, you’d be forgiven for having high expectations for the debut album from Khôrada. After all, it’s not every day that something as close to a super-group as this releases new music. And, though it is a difficult listen, requiring time and patience to get the most out of, Salt ultimately delivers on those expectations, being a progressive, emotionally dense album, that asks a lot of the listener but has much to offer in return. There is immediate appeal simply from the quality of music on offer, but the real power of Salt only becomes evident with repeated listens, with this being an album that is not so much enjoyed as it is experienced. You may come in to this record with a wealth of expectations – and given the pedigree of those involved, it’s hard not to – but Salt is entirely its own creature, removed from what people might want it to be, and instead presenting itself simply as it is. And what it is, is something deeply profound – an album that speaks of life, of all its pain and sorrow, of the small triumphs and the bitter defeats, of the threads that connect us all to everything. It’s a lot to take in, but is it worth the time and effort to do so? Absolutely.
Black Fast – Spectre of Ruin
As far as band names go, Black Fast is… maybe not so great. Yet, as a descriptor for their music, it’s not too inaccurate. Whilst you’d be hard-pressed to find any traces of black metal in their sound, the band’s brand of thrash metal is certainly fast, with Spectre of Ruin going for the throat right from the opening moments. Individually, there’s no denying that the songs are good, with the band merging technical prowess with raw power; yet, over the course of the album, it all blends in to one, the subtle variations of each song being swamped by the overwhelming production, that results in no single element being able to rise to the fore in any notable or memorable sense. Good to dip in to for a few tracks at a time for an energy rush, but over longer a duration it ends up as an album that is less than the sum of its parts. Disappointing.
Sarcófago – The Worst
Label: Greyhaze Records
Much like Celtic Frost, the importance of Sarcófago to extreme metal is hard to over-state; and there’s several points of similarity between the two bands. They both produced genre-defining records with their debuts; they both had considerable shifts of sound between albums; and they both released albums that are widely derided by their fans. Yet to say The Worst is anything like as bad as Cold Lake would be unfair, and this new vinyl and cassette reissue by Greyhaze Records, due out in August, presents the final Sarcófago album in the best possible light. Even so, the drum machine sound doesn’t do the album justice, and your enjoyment of the album will definitely depend on your appetite for repetitive groove-metal style riffs; but, though this is undoubtedly the worst Sarcófago album (no pun intended), it’s not really as bad as its reputation suggests – there’s still some traces of their primitive black metal DNA in there, albeit with a lot of groove and modern (for the mid-90’s) influences. A curious end to a largely brilliant band, it’s an OK album let down by some bad decisions.
ELMA – Child in the Closet
Label: Cudighi Records
Drone and dark ambient might seem like an easy kind of music to create; yet, the number of records released in those styles that don’t produce the desired results says otherwise. Child in the Closet by Japanese artist ELMA (Hideo Ueda) is one record that really works though, with its two long track (each one being over fifteen minutes) conjuring the sort of atmosphere that many such albums aim for but fall short of. There is something about Child in the Closet that sends a chill down the spine, coming across as the sound of existential dread in the late of night; of alien sounds and twisted sonics, reaching out like some kind of all-too-real monster. As good as guaranteed to give you nightmares, this is everything dark ambient should be.
Butcher in the Fog – A Screaming Reflection
Label: Sleight of Hand Music
Yeah, I don’t really know what to make of that cover artwork either. But what I do know is that Butcher in the Fog‘s new album, A Screaming Reflection, does not fuck around, with eight tracks of punk-infused, no-nonsense thrash metal. There is something pure about the joy with which the band play and put across, with their sense of energy being hard to deny. Gloriously enjoyable and with a real sense of charisma, A Screaming Reflection is a hell of a lot of fun – the kind of album that seems designed to be the soundtrack to a night of drinking and headbanging, with no concern for how you’ll feel in the morning. There are also more adventurous tracks, such as the down-tempo, spacious ‘Blood and Starlight’ and closer ‘Venus Flytrap’, showing that Butcher in the Fog are a band unafraid to take risks and try something different. That is to be commended, and these tracks also help provide a sense of contrast that keeps the rest of A Screaming Reflection coming across as the high-energy, no holds barred ride that it is.
Sense Offender – I
Label: Self-released (digital) / Black Omega Recordings (physical)
Possessing the same kind of belligerent, pissed-off energy and take no prisoners attitude as Cult Leader, the debut release from Sense Offender is a fifteen minute, five track onslaught of heavy, sludge-laden hardcore. Being very much music for bad times, I is hard-hitting, angry, and every bit as nasty as you’d hope for, with doom and noise influences creeping in to their sound to make it even more uncomfortable than the norm. This is a remarkably assured release, that provides not so much a sense of catharsis as it does utter suffocation under its bleak, black heaviness. This one hurts.