Life is scary. Buy local. Another ten of the best from her majesty’s racket.
Re-orientate your brain; it’s subversive metal from Leeds. Musically, OND bring me right back to the heyday of sci-fi metal in the late 1980s; Voivod, Watchtower, Coroner. They manage to combine the high-fidelity musicianship expected of progressive thrash, with punk primitivism that birthed the genre in the first place. Voivod for example – although a key influence on the notoriously polished progressive metal style – were really rather abrasive in the early 1980s. And by ‘really rather’ I mean ‘unbearable’.
OND’s self-titled debut EP emulates some of this raw energy with a rich tapestry of technical thrash riffs that feel both original and familiar. This is combined with vocals that would be at home on a crust punk album. Lyrics….well they’re different for a metal band anyway. Themes range from ecological destruction (‘Save the Bees’), to social issues (‘Some People’), filtered through what can only be described as a disposition for British colloquialisms, and matching deadpan humour.
Take the spirit of black metal, the dynamic nuances of post rock/metal, and the talent of progressive metal, and you might get something like the sound of Yorkshire’s Of Wounds.. It’s music that aspires to emulate the rising and falling energies of North European nature, sometimes chaotic, sometimes tranquil. They do this through contrasting aggressive vocals with clean guitars and a simple yet dynamically unpredictable rhythm section. The result is cold yet peaceful music.
To call it post metal would be a bit demeaning. Frankly there’s just more stuff going on both technically and artistically in the music of Of Wounds.. It would do them a disservice to lump them in with the vacuous pondlife that inexplicably aspires to the ‘post’ label; the death of intrigue. No, the music of Of Wounds. (apart from a name that eviscerates syntax), is an audial feast of emotions and intrigue, from aggression to solitude to melancholia. A bit like Enya stepping on lego.
Suffolk’s Stahlsarg are apparently fairly straightforward black metal. Whilst it’s certainly true that the building blocks of this music are hardly anything new, they compose and play with a level of intensity and precision that is nevertheless refreshing. This is rhythmically energetic black metal that bases its sense of drama upon the contrast between colliding tremolo strummed riffs with slower, deeper droning chords. This calls to mind A Transylvanian Funeral’s ‘The Outsider‘ (2010). But the real origins of this relatively technical variant on black metal originated in the likes of Gorgoroth’s first two LPs.
The success of this music is the tension between riffcraft, pace, build, and contrast. Mechanical drums effortlessly switch from ponderous marching tempos to breakneck blast beats and back again within the space of a few bars. As a result it’s fairly percussive, requiring half decent production to capture the interplay between melody and rhythm; something which their latest LP ‘Mechanisms of Misanthropy’ (2017) boasts.
Baby Electric Wizard. Droning chords, tritones, heavy drums. A lot of stoner doom is fundamentally lazy; once you get over the guitar tone it’s all much of a muchness. There are a few features of this style I still find enduringly appealing however; elements that Farnborough’s Witchsorrow have gracefully mastered. A heavy dose of occultism without falling into the trappings of self-parody. A good bit of this can be fun, too much can be tiresome. For Witchsorrow this is not just a superficial adornment, it can be found at the deeper level of their music. The sluggish nature of it, devoid of energetic drums, with guitar leads that simply play root notes a few octaves up, or basic harmonies, in the exact same rhythm, deadpan vocals elongating each syllable, evocative of spiritual chants; all contribute to this ritualistically evil music.
Their third LP ‘Hexanhammar’ (2018) is a continuation of this style, and does not deviate or detract from this well-trodden ground. They do it well, and with more tongue in cheek misery than the overly macho habits of much stoner doom.
Yeah ok, a lot of people have already caught on to these guys. But it never hurts to spread some more love. I’ve been dubbing them ‘Scottish Winterfylleth’ for a while now. But aside from a penchant for pleasing washes of blasting chords and harmonies, often played in a…a major key, the Winterfylleth comparison really ends there. Their breakthrough LP, 2016’s ‘Guardians’ is what people like to refer to as black/folk metal? Atmospheric folk metal? Atmospheric folk black metal? Look it’s black metal – albeit in a somewhat neutered state – decorated with fiddles, flutes, and in the case of Saor, bagpipes. Vocals are more guttural than we’re used to in this arena, but dosed with the requisite reverb they add an earthy depth to the music.
It’s a distinctive and pleasing style. One that Saor have done a good job of stamping with a flavour of Scotland. Their latest LP, 2019’s ‘Forgotten Paths’ stretches out each idea further, to the point of kissing ambient folk metal in the vein of Summoning. Their talent lies in working simple melodies and counterpoint over repetitive but engaging rhythms to build a sonic buffet of varying intensities. Considering this is music that relies heavily on atmosphere there is a remarkable degree of musicality going into creating these layers. And this is where the attentive listener will be rewarded. In a saturated field of family friendly bedroom black metal bands – who favour midi files and colourful fantasy artwork over four track tape recorders and grainy woodland photos of corpse painted ghouls – Saor stand a breed apart.
Managed to catch these guys open the bill at this year’s Manor fest in Keighley. I believe it was a half hour set which was just about enough time to showcase one song. Yeah….one of them ‘we got time for one more chord?’ jobbies. If progressive doom metal is your schtick then nothing but the top shelf will suffice, and that’s where Hollow Earth live. Beyond that the music can be hard to describe. So many techniques, themes, moods, and genres are touched upon throughout the course of a composition that really there’s something for rock and metal fans of all backgrounds. All this is knitted together through the thumping heartbeat-of-the-earth that is immersive doom metal.
The sentimentalist in me is warmed to see traditional black metal making a small comeback in recent years. Stripped of the trappings of fleeting novelty, one must rediscover first principles in music; build from the bottom up, stumble upon innovation in moments of self-restriction. Better that than manufacturing novelty by crushing incompatible elements together and hoping no one would notice.
Manchester’s Necronautical are riding the waves of this resurgence with class. Their latest LP, 2016’s ‘The Endurance at Night’ is a pleasing mix of melodic symphonic black metal graduating from the Emperor school. Indeed, this album almost feels like a re-run of Dimmu Borgir’s ‘Death Cult Armageddon’, but this time without the insulting shitness. It pleases me that they don’t hold back from all the trappings of black metal, the corpse paint, the evil aesthetic, the theatricalities. No it’s not a pre-requisite of this music, but it makes for an immersive experience when done properly (pssst, it’s fun).
Symphonic? Operatic? Power? We don’t normally go in for that here; choosing rather to consign it to the rosy glow of youth we once cast upon Nightwish and Disney music. But Pallas Athena have a little bit more to them. Hailing from Manchester, their debut EP ‘The Awakening’ (2019) holds something for fans of Septic Flesh as much as it does Within Temptation.
Rather than leaning on pop sensibilities with metallic orchestration, Pallas Athena work complex progressive and neoclassical metal riffs into what is essentially very well written symphonic death metal. The vocals are operatic for the most part, soaring over double bass and blast beats, displaying a flair for the epic. This avoids the directionless and intolerable cheese that much of this genre falls into (although I still have a soft spot for it). Pallas Athena are clearly learned as well as creative musicians; putting a range of different metal styles to work beneath their energetic brand of symphonic metal.
One for the My Dying Bride fans. You know the drill by now. Traditional heavy metal riffs are given a new lease of sluggish life through these patiently developed epic compositions. Vocals, both clean and distorted, work their way through lyrics of loss and despair. Much like Pallas Athena, they operate on territory that some find hard to swallow…abrasive even. But crack open the brittle shell of surface level aesthetics and be rewarded with an egg of quality doom metal. These are compositions that are capable of holding our attention well past the pedestrian ambitions of pop.
Drums point the way to each new passage and dictate the intensity of this music. Whilst recorded material is a pleasure to listen to, as with a lot of good doom, this is best enjoyed in a live setting.
It’s time for a very old school thrash attack. Insurgency are from Lancaster. They play brutally primitive thrash that takes one right back to the early days of pre-Darkthrone black metal. Think Sarcofago, Pentegram (Chile), NME, Merciless. This is essentially hardcore punk played by metalheads. Very few tempo changes. Wall to wall atonal riffs that dictate rhythm and structure. Highly aggressive. Apocalyptic. Bass distorted beyond reason. All played at breakneck pace. I first saw these guys back in 2017 opening for Voivod at Temple of Boom in Leeds, I ordered a decent pair of earplugs the next day. I simply cannot fault this masterclass in 1980s extreme metal reinterpreted for the modern age of hysteria.
That’s it for volume III. Please enjoy the cobbled together playlist. I’m off to assess the next crop of upcoming gigs and write a eulogy for my personal finances. And a recap for those at the back, here’s volume I and volume II.