I like the beats and I like the yelling: Thecodontion/Vessel of Iniquity, Exil, Krossfyre

Thecodontion/Vessel of Iniquity: The Permian-Triassic Extinction Event
Out 3rd September, CD release on I, Voidhanger Records, cassette release on Bad Moon Rising (Taiwan)/Dead Red Queen Records (USA)

As the march of history continues apace, beyond our control or understanding, extreme metal’s quest for new sonic pastures to capture the moment can sometimes look like panic. In the face of the apparent impossibility of responding to the present in any novel or resonant way, it seems only fitting that the two artists on this split EP should find one possible route forward by not only stripping extreme metal back to its barest rudiments, but also lifting conceptual material from the deep corridors of prehistory.

In the pursuit to express time beyond human understanding, Thecodontion and Vessel of Iniquity offer a unique sonic experience. The tracks seek to encapsulate the “alien” both in the sense that they are dedicated to long dead eras of Earth’s history, but also in the literal sounds that emanate from our speakers. Thecodontion’s LP ‘Supercontinent’ released in 2020 – with its austere mix of bass guitars, drums, and distorted vocals – was able to capture the expansive and intangible deep time that defines our understanding of ancient land formations. Seen in this light, stripping the instrumentation to its barest rudiments looks like an act of defiance in today’s world of richly textured and cinematically produced albums.

On ‘The Permian-Triassic Extinction Event’ split EP, Thecodontion offer two more tracks from the ‘Supercontinent’ recording session. When looking to prehistory as a fount of inspiration, the Permian-Triassic extinction event of some 252 million years ago is an irresistible landmark in this field; the most cataclysmic loss of life known to science. But Thecodontion strike an oddly hopeful tone in the face of what is commonly referred to as “The Great Dying”, deciding instead to dedicate odes to two new forms of life that arose after the mass extinction event, the early dinosaurs Thecodontosaurus and Procompsognathus.

The music itself reflects this clunky state of rebirth by combining Thecodontion’s by now trademark throbbing bass attack and stilted approach to tempo with soaring and euphoric high-end leads. This again sees extreme metal’s most primal and aggressive tendencies – from d-beats, abrasive grind, the harsh attack of the low-end bass, and aggressive maniacal vocals – run up against melancholy melodic leads that speak of hope in the face of destruction.

The drums, in offering an ever-shifting foundation of stop/start rhythms, elongated tom rolls, and interrupted blast-beats, seem to mimic the clumsy gait of new life starting out in a world ravaged by ecological destruction. The fact that the music is so stripped back and superficially primitive opens out new pathways and novel forms of expression. In order to create something new, we must dispense with that which is old. Just as the cataclysm of the Great Dying paved the way for new forms of life to take over. The deep past that Thecodontion’s music reaches for is so alien that it might as well be emanating from another reality, and their oddly spacious world of bass and drums is uniquely placed to give voice to these deeper climbs of time.

Vessel of Iniquity opt to directly treat the title of this split with one lengthy track entitled ‘The Great Dying’.  This is a black/grind/noise project masterminded by one S.P. White, whose other project Uncertainty Principle recently released the weighty industrial drone album ‘Sonic Terror’. For this project however, we are greeted by a darker, morose affair laced with uncontrolled melodrama. It opens with a cacophony of noise and chaos, with guitars pinned so tightly to determined blast-beats that riffs are relegated to textural qualities alone, with only the merest suggestion of melodic progressions.

Cavernous singular notes ring out over the underlying static, joined by distant distorted vocals, both of which bend this music violently toward ambient/noise territory rendered through metallic instrumentation. Then comes a respite from the barrage as the percussion disappears entirely for the sake of a minimal dark ambient hum, before a slow, funereal procession is again picked up by the drums, and the guitars switch to a funeral doom dirge. These are again framed by distant, cavernous clean guitar notes reminiscent of Elysian Blaze in their ghostly relationship to actual music. The slightest shift in pitch is given new significance thanks to the application of weighty, reverb drenched sonic layers.

This subtle harmonic architecture is then carried through to a bracing finale of almost gothic melodrama set to grinding guitars and relentless blast-beats. The chilling unknowns of The Great Dying, the drama of deep history, the extended timeframes required to apply efficacious theoretical frameworks to our understanding of these events, all find a semblance of expression through the subtle and ghostly nods to music found in the brume of static and echoes that greet the ear on Vessel of Iniquity’s tribute to the Permian-Triassic Extinction Event.

Exil: Warning
Out 23rd July on Armageddon Label

Newly formed, warmly vintaged Swedish punk outfit Exil offer up their debut LP ‘Warning’ in the stifling heat of summer 2021. Fittingly urgent old school hardcore punk greets the ear on this album, a platform used to deliver lyrics with an all too contemporary preoccupation with capitalist totalitarianism. Although undeniably aggressive and energetic, Exil offer up hints of catchy rock ‘n’ roll and even some blues licks buried between the atonal nihilism. This brings it closer to Cryptic Slaughter or D.R.I. in places as opposed to the apocalypticism of Swedish d-beat. Many classic pre-1980 punk riffs emerge out of the fray in all their unapologetically catchy glory, as in the track ‘Poison’ for example.

The guitar tone has a twangy, clean attack to it that again brings this closer to the raw, grassroots punk sound of old as opposed to the ravaged soundscapes of Dropdead or Disfear. Vocals dispense with any showy distortion or Danzigesque crooning. All is simple, barked, quickfire phrases of moral and political intent defined by a very human sense of urgency. Drums switch from brief d-beats to rockabilly to proto blast-beats with ease. The snare attack is a little repressed, but every element of the kit is rendered with enough nuance to give us full view of the unrestrained energy of the performance. Filling out the space in the mix left by the lack of overwhelming distortion is the understated bass throb, which slips nicely into a supporting role, filling out the sound without distracting from the catchy exchanges of riffs that define the guitars.

Given the blunted immediacy of the guitar tone, lacking in inertia and sustain, most of these tracks trade on simple quickfire riffs knitted together by catchy licks sometimes closer to blues, other times to a hardcore bludgeoning of power chords. This interchange between a facsimile of party music exchanging blows with rampant apocalypticism and vocals straight from a street protest gives ‘Warning’ a sense of despairing bacchanalian revelry in the face of the urgency of the issues addressed across these tracks. The will-to-leisure enforced by consumer capitalism collides with our collective knowledge of our inevitable demise fuelled by unchecked wealth accumulation. This tension finds some release in the drunken immediacy of the very traditional iteration of punk that is ‘Warning’.

Nihilism meets a call to arms in the fun loving rock warped into extremity by the angular screaming guitar leads and cacophony of thrash riffs that constantly break these tracks into pieces. ‘Warning’ is a brief but dense statement of intent fittingly concluded by the lengthy but no less intense ‘Internalized Extinction’. A reassertion of a very traditional idea of hardcore punk at a time when it is needed most.

Krossfyre: Rites of Extermination
Out 23rd July on Hells Headbangers

Krossfyre’s debut ‘Rites of Extermination’ is prima facie another above average slab of blackened thrash a-la Slaughtbbath or Perversor. But as these Spaniards unveil their craft over the course of these eight tracks it becomes apparent that they are keen to reference a more diverse array of riff traditions than is common for this famously restrictive style. This is most obviously found in the frequent shifts in tempo, almost bringing this in line with death metal for its disorientating pacing. But Krossfyre also supplement the “thrash but darker” riff stylings of blackened thrash with some unapologetically black metal flavours and creepy melodic hooks that speak of celebratory evil over unbridled aggression.

The production first off is pretty massive. Echoey, cavernous vocals open out sonic space above a strong guitar tone. The latter of which is a perfect blend of atmospheric qualities with limited reverb, allowing the frantic riffing space to shine. The drums are a little low in the mix, but their presence can certainly be felt hammering away beneath the fray. When they are not maintaining the music’s momentum they are completely breaking it apart with choppy fills and consistent tempo changes. The balance between atmosphere and immediacy is well maintained throughout this album, adding extra weight and significance to the overall presentation.

And balance really is the key word when considering ‘Rites of Extermination’. This is a genre that prides itself on an understanding of its own history. Artists are rewarded for how authentically they can honour the past and find an identity within strictly maintained creative barriers. Seen in this light it’s the small things that make all the difference, Krossfyre’s subtle application of melodic inflections, a dash of flamboyance, some riffs that would be at home on a melodic black metal album, and subtle adornments such as the timpani drums that make an appearance on the title track. Whilst hardly revolutionary, and not enough to prevent ‘Rites of Extermination’ from being a hardnosed thrash offering, this does elevate this release above the usual crop for this genre.

There is a marked teleology at work behind these compositions. Krossfyre are not simply marching by whilst doling out the usual blackened thrash calling cards. They operate with a clear structure and narrative intent. There are melodic ideas at work behind the scenes that stitch the riffs together, unifying and contextualising each individual fragment into a greater whole. These things are important to note. If genres that make such a show of their nostalgia creds are to be anything more than a feedback loop, glorifying a few agreed upon nodes, spending some real care and attention on the compositions themselves can go a long way to revitalising the genre without sacrificing its treasured integrity.

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