Beats and yelling from: Táltos, Vrenth, Bones

Táltos: Érezd hogy élsz
Out 4th August, self-released

The latest EP from this Hungarian outfit presents a rich sonic brew of dissonant black metal, tribal rhythms, throat singing, didgeridoos, and unusual percussive philosophies, at least within a metal setting. It takes seriously the folk and regional connections forged by extreme metal movements over the decades, and embeds them into the very DNA of the music. The result is a reminder that a lot of “folk” elements worked into metal are often a sanitised retelling of said traditions. “Authentic” folk music can often be extremely jarring for clinical modern tastes.

Táltos wipe the gloss away from this veneer, and present a stilted, discordant, rhythmically ponderous form of ritualistic black metal, creating a space that requires considerable effort on the part of the listener to truly enter their minds into. Seen from this angle, the actual metal elements across this EP begin to look like merely incidental furniture, a textual flourish deployed to flesh out the body of this work, part post-2000 Tom Waits, part primalist jazz fusion, part folk collective jam session.

The vocals still sit within the black metal milieu, albeit with a pronounced conversational orientation. Guitars jolt from fairly basic black metal to staccato dissonance with ease, but remain the chief connecting thread between the music of ‘Érezd hogy élsz’ and anything that once resembled metal. The percussion is perhaps the most fascinating element of this EP. I say percussion deliberately, because although a drumkit is featured throughout, it is used in a very un-rockist manner to deliver cyclical bursts of ritual dance, repetitive pulses, and angular patterns of disjointed fluidity in a manner rarely seen outside of certain forms of groove metal, alongside an array of other percussive instruments.

But within this setting the groove is deployed to bolster the infectious notion of ceremony. A sincere and largely successful attempt to render the trancelike experience of pagan ritual, with all its intoxicating undertones, randomness fashioned into internal logics through the perspective of raw experience into sonic form. What can at first seem inexplicable, without coherence, coalesces into a phenomenon with sui generis meaning, one that collapses upon contact with the cold light of day, but by inserting oneself into the experience of ‘Érezd hogy élsz’, it brings to solidity a representation of those liminal experiences and grants them a sense of permanence.

Vrenth: Succumb to Chaos
Out 5th September on Rotted Life

A refreshing churn of old ideas keeps Vrenth’s latest offering ‘Succumb to Chaos’ from…succumbing to monotony. This is meaty, lumbering death metal of the most direct fashion, part Bolt Thrower, part Incantation, part Demilichian weirdness. But Vrenth are master craftsmen, able to refashion these fairly industry standard specs into something noteworthy. There is a connecting tissue of quality riffcraft and a marked ability to make each transition count, building into an accumulation of tension and energy as each track progresses, all of which makes ‘Succumb to Chaos’ feel like an old pair of shoes, familiar, comfy, irreplaceable.

Vrenth strike a balance between pummelling the listener with waves of down-tuned, chromatic death metal and surprisingly nuanced compositional architecture, aided by some well placed lead guitar work that scratches both a textural and a melodic itch.

The production is well placed to deliver the battering ram of death metal riffage on display here. The guitar tone is predominantly a thunderous rumble of energy, low, dirty, yet given just enough coherence to articulate more complex riffing when it counts. The drums sit nearly as low in the mix, with a heavy, bass driven snare bolstered by additional reverb as opposed to a natural decay. Bass and toms act as artillery in this assault, underpinning all with a hail of chest thumping energy. Vocals are guttural and monstrous, again, offering just enough solidity to bring some percussive elements to the table when it counts.

But despite this overtly primitivist presentation, Vrenth neatly stitch these pieces together into expertly crafted tracts of death metal as epic as it is ominous. Subtle melodicism is deployed to contrast with riffs that reach back to the genre’s punk roots, all coalescing into builds and finales that feel earned due to Vrenth’s ability to properly transition between segments. They deploy both pitch and tempo in simple yet effective ways to deliver these riff collections into the most dramatic and coherent shape possible. Lead guitar work is deployed more as a second lyrical voice than it is as traditional solo work, building on the melodic material of the riffs and expanding the textural range of the music.

All this makes ‘Succumb to Chaos’ a work that is eminently familiar, yet from this trait lies its greatest strength. The tonal and aesthetic offering of this album is about as garden variety as they come. But Vrenth operate at a subtler level than many of their peers, making this death metal for the connoisseur. Through the subtle application of “weird” elements, to the fluidity of each transition, and the culminative build of themes and tension throughout each piece, ‘Succumb to Chaos’ stands in marked contrast to albums that sit within the same aesthetic range yet cannot match it for sheer intimacy with death metal as an artform and not merely a reaffirmation of certain techniques and guitar tones.

Bones: Sombre Opulence
Out 9th September on Invictus Productions

Describing this debut as a “melting pot of styles” is really a double-edged sword for Belgium’s Bones. They have clearly attempted to keep ‘Sombre Opulence’ within the dirty, black/death/thrash oeuvre, but tend to eschew the often hilariously limiting remit of many actors within this territory. Bones are certainly not lacking in riffs and ideas, nor are they short on influences and precedents to draw upon. But the result is in danger of looking like chaos, and not the marshalled chaos that they probably intended, but a genuine lack of control over the music.

Over the first half of the album we range from extended d-beats, to the meaty groove laden Morbid Angel riffing on ‘Deserts of Eternity’, to chromatic blackened thrash, to a range of European death metal stylings, to the disintegration-metal of Spain’s blackened grinders Teitanblood. A surplus of stylistic signifiers may in itself be no bad thing, but in the case of Bones they struggle to articulate a voice of their own. From cacophonously messy blast-beats, to incoherent fretboard murder, to outrageous chromaticism, we are still left wondering where Bones might be going with all this, besides a montage of various forms of underground metal that happen to be orientated toward representations of chaos.

The musicianship and production is expert, with every aspect of the playing and presentation executed near flawlessly. But again, in this context I would have appreciated the veil being lifted only for a moment, and a truly uncontrollable or “weird” moment being allowed to take root, and elevate ‘Sombre Opulence’ into a work where something might “happen”.

This is made all the more frustrating by the fact that the album is littered with quality moments, from the doom laden interlude into the second half of the album on ‘Withering’, to the raw enthusiasm of the first few tracks that blister by in a haze of speed and jagged noise. But as the tight cluster of riffs that opens ‘Primordial Idolatry’ washes over the listener, and we are left to admire the sonic maze being crafted before our ears, we are still left wondering where all this is going. What has been achieved beyond the collection and placement of a series of agreeable influences and genre tropes.

This album is still worth your time. Many tracks do develop into tight and well placed units of modern death metal of a particularly primitive but not simplistic bent. But all too often this momentum is squandered as the album progresses, with each new track seemingly an act of amnesia, failing to follow in coherent order from the last, making ‘Sombre Opulence’ a disjointed work of frustrated momentum. For all the quality riffs and curious pockets of intrigue, the macro picture has yet to fully mature into a distinct voice within extreme metal.

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