Lunar Funeral: Road to Siberia
Out 24th July on Helter Skelter Productions
There was a moment between ‘Witchcult Today’ and ‘Black Masses’ where Electric Wizard looked like they were about to morph into a richly atmospheric garage rock version of themselves. Darker than Uncle Acid, heavier than Purson, and infinitely more interesting than Conan. But sadly ‘twas not to be. But no need to weep, for upon hearing Lunar Funeral’s latest album ‘Road to Siberia’ that one possible future unrealised has now come to pass. On this offering, this Russian outfit blend the meditative drone of latter-day Earth with a more colourful riff palette, thus containing the competing forces of stasis and motion within these lackadaisical stoner rock pieces.
The guitars pivot on the twangy, reverb zealotry of surf rock. This grants the melodies a marked percussive quality, their stop/start motions function almost like church bells, heralding finality as much as they bring melodic material to the table. Gently distorted rhythm guitars flesh out the lower end of the mix along with the bass, leaving the mid-range largely empty. But this serves the subtly dark atmospheres of this album to a T. Drums are organic yet clear, with a crisp and clear attack despite their obvious aspirations toward the retro aesthetic. The performance is pretty basic, but again, this serves these tracks well, as anything too technical or off-kilter from a rhythmic perspective could seem inappropriate given the surrounding landscape.
Vocals are clean, and heavily supressed in reverb, making the lyrics hard to discern. They have a ghostly, unhuman quality to them, haunting in a camp Hammer Horror sort of way. But given the musical setting this approach works surprisingly well as a vector for atmosphere as well as providing simple, droning melodies in conversation with the guitars.
The riff patterns are about as basic as they come. They give the illusion of motion by establishing a strong cadence which is consistently reaffirmed as home throughout the track, from there the incessant clang of those surf rock guitars are free to wander up the scale, creating tension by virtue of extending the interval of their return to home-base each time. Beyond this simple yet effective technique, we have spacey blues in tracks like ‘25th Hour’, and what sounds like harmonic minor inflections on ‘The Thrill’. Lunar Funeral prove themselves adept at writing music to fit the timbre and textural choices made on this album. Or rather, the choice of guitar tone and vocal technique directly informs their approach to composition. Whichever way round this material was put together, it’s a solid integration of form and content.
Along with Remote, Megalith Levitation, and Pressor, we can add Lunar Funeral to the myriad of stoner metal that is currently emerging from Russia, and frankly putting their UK and American opposite numbers to shame for originality and creativity. ‘Road to Siberia’ is how I wish many psychedelic/stoner offerings sounded, but so often fall short for lack of actual musical ideas, or generic presentation. This work of stripped back modesty, emphasising atmosphere and groove over pummelling riffs or mindless Sabbath worship is certainly a refreshing breeze for anyone equally starved of inspiration in this arena.
Gnosis: Omens from the Dead Realm
Out 1st August on Nuclear War Now! Productions
The best Greek metal you’ll hear all year fresh from….Miami. Gnosis return with their third LP ‘Omens from the Dead Realm’, an impressive work of epic heavy metal through the lens of extreme metal. Reaching right back to the dawn of this style in ‘Thy Mighty Contract’, the theatrics are contained within the interaction between riffs and the melodic inflections that function as commentary on the narrative, as opposed to the low hanging fruit of heavy handed symphonics and unearned key changes.
The production embodies a refreshingly analogue aesthetic, eschewing the heavily compressed presentation of a Katavasia. This lends the work a sense of heightened mysticism, invoking the arcane over blunt melodrama. Guitars have more of a European death metal tone to them, dirty and bass heavy yet carrying enough articulation to do the melodic material justice. Drums are a little weak in the mix despite the tight and varied performance. Toms and bass are barely audible at times, functioning more as a presence than keepers of tempo. Vocals stick with a guttural death growl, more ghoulish than aggressive, focusing on sustaining the last syllable of each line for greater atmospheric payoff.
The real star of the show however is obviously the riffs. Gnosis somehow manage to sound completely derivative of early Rotting Christ yet totally fresh. The hallmarks are obvious, but ‘Omens from the Dead Realm’ manages to build in enough novelty alongside a truly distinct melodic character to warrant this being called more than a simple rerun of the classic Greek style. The riffs are rooted in heavy metal injected with the dark romanticism of epic extreme metal. But Gnosis keep the focus on the riffs themselves, with only the most subtle of keyboard lines to flesh out the atmosphere. They also avoid devolving these tracks into a riff salad, ensuring that each riff is built patiently into the next, making use of the virtues of repetition as much as transition.
One should not be totally deceived by this frugality however, these tracks are still epic in scope and not lacking in ambition. Whether it’s the slow march of ‘The Eleventh Step the Gate Unknown’ or the fast gallop of the title track, repetition is used to build the tone of each piece, with only the most basic of shifts in pitch or note variation required to advance the momentum of the music. Complexity emergres from the longevity of a single idea, one that takes the course of an entire track to reveal itself. Short lived lead guitars are deployed to heighten the drama or calm the mood as required. Gnosis also make good use of tempo and key changes as a way to signal a new chapter in the album, the next stage on the journey, one that feels earned rather than forced thanks to the patiently prepared ground that precedes each transition.
Because this style pivots so heavily on melody, on catchy hooks and recognisable musical elements that reach back to old school heavy metal in a more obvious way when compared to other forms of extreme metal, one could be forgiven for thinking albums like ‘Omens from the Dead Realm’ are easy to put together. But despite all the derivative moments on here, the overall picture Gnosis paint is complex and rich, and far easier to get lost in than many more overtly theatrical and showy works in this arena. This contrast speaks to the good old fashioned bread and butter of balancing riff transitions with fluid melodic narratives and understated decorations. It’s not an easy trick to pull off, but in hearing an album surpass its influences and begin to create its own world this subtle art begins to reveal itself.
Shrieking Demons: Diabolical Regurgitations
Out 30th July on Caligari Records
Do you like Autopsy? Well you’ll love this carbon copy of ‘Mental Funeral’. Remember that thing that happened in the early 90s? Well here it is again, thirty years later. Shrieking Demons are an Italian death metal outfit that seem intent on denying the last few decades of music history with their debut EP ‘Diabolical Regurgitations’. Before we get too disingenuous however, we note that there are plenty of praiseworthy elements to this otherwise unapologetically backward looking release.
The production is modest and sparse. Whilst the tendency with a lot of modern OSDM is to exaggerate certain elements – a bloated guitar tone, overly reverb soaked solos, murky vocals – ‘Diabolical Regurgitations’ doesn’t feel like a caricature of classic death metal. The guitars are dirty and down-tuned for sure, but they remain easily clear enough to articulate the surprisingly catchy death/doom riffage that makes up the bulk of these tracks. The drums have an equally balanced place in the mix, raw and organic but not so dirty as to be a distraction from the bouncy, lively rhythms.
Vocalist Gabri sounds like a crossbreed between Chris Reifert and Chuck Schuldiner. And indeed the music uses the triad of Autopsy, early Death, and a pinch of Cianide to work its not so subtle alchemy. References to the days when death/doom was simply a slower, catchier version of death metal form the basis of this material, rooting many of the riff shapes back to Black Sabbath alongside the usual punky/Slayer attack of atonal carnage.
But aside from all this heavy-handed contextualisation, Shrieking Demons have enough surprises and creativity to hold the interest. The plodding, almost groovy doom riffs that would be at home on a stoner album, the loose d-beats, the solos that veer from single note screeches to intricately melodic adornments. All work toward creating tracks that stand up in their own rite as quality death metal beyond the usual tired cultural markers of OSDM. The tension which opens the track ‘Whispering Corridors’, leading into plodding death/doom is demonstrative of musicians that have their eye on constructing tracks that make sense from a narrative perspective and not just a collection of knowing genre reference points.