I like the beats and I like the yelling: Reveal!, Earthwomb, Crone Visions

Reveal!: Doppelherz
Out 10th December on Sepulchral Voice Records

Execration, Horrendous, Atvm, Morbus Chron (deceased), what do these artists have in common? Well, whatever divergence in quality one could argue for, between them they represent an interesting progressive direction quietly beavering away in the bowels of death metal, seemingly unbeknownst to today’s self-congratulatory taste makers still dogmatically plugging the warm diarrhoea of an Archspire or Obscura.

We can now go ahead and chalk up Sweden’s Reveal! as another shining beacon of genuinely progressively minded death metal after listening to their latest LP ‘Doppelherz’. This is progressive in the sense that it literally seeks to progress the ethos, technique, delivery, and expressive potential of death metal. Whether this is done via technical wizardry, genre hopping compositions, or “unconventional” keys and time signatures is really by the by. The result is oddly compelling and surprisingly catchy death metal, with a healthy dollop of early Voivod style thrash thrown in for good measure.

The production gives the album an organic, almost spontaneous aesthetic. Drums are clear and crisp, with absolutely no thrills or needless distractions added at the mixing desk to detract from the nuance of the performance itself. The guitar tone is very atypical for extreme metal. The distortion is dirty and rough, jangling and sharp in a manner closer to garage rock than the fat distortion of meat ‘n’ taters death metal. It’s as if it were lifted from a hardcore punk album and forced to work in service of decidedly more complex musical elements than it was designed to do. There are also plenty of open string riffs delivered with a clean undertone, which both adds to the punky abrasion of the delivery but also allows Reveal! to articulate idiosyncratic chord patterns and bizarre licks not often available in the death metal setting. Vocals are a harsh mid-ranged growl. They fit the balance of the mix well, meandering between the utterly deranged and the oddly controlled aesthetic of alternative rock.

Despite the apparent anarchy of this music, which veers wildly from early thrash and hardcore punk to swing rhythms and then back to chromatic death metal, all is self-contained and intuitive, with no hint of the obnoxious or the contrived in this undeniably quirky package. Reveal! are similar to Die Kreuzen in their ability to force the listener to suspend their disbelief, and make them believe that music can actually be this abrasive and still retain a twisted form of catchiness.

The abrasive qualities cannot simply be boiled down to tinny guitar tones, dissonance, or dense drum patterns however. They are also found in the fragments of influences Reveal! are splicing together, forming uncanny mutations and odd sonic chimeras that craft their own definitions of beauty, the logic of which we cannot help but follow.

Whether this is death metal, or progressive thrash, or future minded hardcore punk is really by the by. There are elements of all these traditions and more packed into ‘Doppelherz’. But what matters is the apparent spontaneity and confidence in the arrangement and performances that went into crafting this oddity. And it’s thanks to this that we end up forgetting any notion of being spoon fed “brainy” technicalities or feedback loops of heady musical in-jokes. This is a rough, raw, organic, primitive piece of extreme metal/punk that is no less layered and subtle in spite of its own unbridled energy.

Earthwomb: Becoming Immanence
Out 7th October, self-released

The debut from this Peruvian black metal outfit is a cavalcade of oppression and atmosphere. The overall presentation is vast and open, calling to mind the empty spaces of nature, beholding the cosmos on a clear night when the imposing emptiness of our place in the universe is really felt. But ‘Becoming Immanence’ is not a static affair, this is flowing and fast paced black metal of near constant blast-beats and simple, layered riffs that unfold at a pace that holds both tension and a sense of permanence within otherwise simple melodic frameworks.

As far as the mix is concerned atmosphere is key. Drums have been diminished somewhat. One can still perceive the tightness of the performance as it gushes from dense fills to the background throb of blast-beats, but the intention seems to be to provide the music with a pulsating energy without overwhelming the ethereal qualities inherent in the rest of the music. Guitars offer a wash of rich and layered tremolo picked riffs, and are suitably reverbed up to deliver this tapestry with conviction. Although they largely sit at the higher end typical of atmospheric black metal, the mix is not without low end. A throbbing bass can also be discerned, opening out the bottom of the mix with some welcome depth and gravitas.

Despite some mid-paced passages, this is black metal that trades on fluidity, cascading from one passage to the next via lengthy drum fills, with the inertia of the guitar tone causing much overlap across each transition. This gives each piece a sense of flowing timelessness in stark contrast to the immediacy of other styles that trade on overt riff transitions.

The delivery is decidedly grim. Earthwomb – in crafting a sound dedicated to the vastness of reality – are not seeking to provide catharsis or comfort as we behold the firmament. The music is not without aggression, but most of the melodic threads weave a sense of despair and inevitability throughout. The clarity of the mix and the distinctive character to each riff gives this music a sense of hopelessness that is conveyed far more convincingly than the one-dimensional walls of static offered by a Darkspace or a Xasthur. Earthwomb also trade on dynamics throughout, breaking up the intense passages of distortion with clean guitars, ringing chords, and a minimal drum ethos. 

It’s rare to find a debut offered with such clarity of intent alongside the ability to carry it off. But ‘Becoming Immanence’ is a carefully crafted work of atmospheric black metal that neatly arranges layers of musical motion beneath dense textures, thus granting this EP an enduring appeal lacking in less considered works.

Crone Visions: Devour
Out 10th December on Seeing Red Records

New Hampshire’s Crone Visions meld a fairly typical stoner rock presentation with elements of post punk and gothic rock on their debut EP ‘Devour’. A musical experience so basic and sparse it’s a wonder it manages to hold the attention. But the devil’s in the delivery on this one. Every element of the mix and performance is placed where it is for a reason, slotting neatly alongside the surrounding elements in a pleasingly intuitive marriage of form and content.

The riffs might be simple, but the guitar tone is rich and earthy, granting extra significance to the smallest accent or hint of dissonance. They predominantly stick with a basic bluesy stoner style, but occasionally veer into melodic and lackadaisical punk and goth as on ‘Seven of Swords’. Drums offer an equally minimal performance, laying down minimal but tight grooves to anchor the spacey reverb of the rest of the mix.

Clean vocals soar above the murk with simple yet brilliantly intuitive lyrical melodies. Although the overall aesthetic is very much in the stoner camp, Crone Visions tap into goth’s twisted interpretations of pop sensibilities. The melodies are familiar, the 4/4 time signatures and the chord progressions are all run of the mill. But ‘Devour’ remains subtly mesmerising thanks to the drab delivery. This is pop rock delivered in the most foggy, miserable, downbeat manner possible. And this is ultimately one of the enduring appeals of goth and post punk. The bouncy radio friendly pop ethos turned on its head, coloured in black and washed out with hazy atmospheres and droll humour.

Crone Visions have offered a great example of how to get more from less. To analyse the raw musical components of this EP in isolation is to discover its minimalism. But the performances, the production, the momentary hints and references of genre alchemy – between goth and stoner, pop and garage rock – all give ‘Devour’ a life and colour of its own, transcending the sum of its modest parts.

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