Beats and yelling from: Hadopelagyal, Gutvoid, Upon the Altar/DeathEpoch

Hadopelagyal: Nereidean Seismic End
Out 19th September on Amor Fati / Ván

The debut album from these German blackened noise metallers sees earthy textures re-morphed into an abrasive riff setting where conflict abounds. Basic ascending patterns are thwarted by an irresistible drive down to the subterranean via the philosophy of grind. Despite the clear death drive toward total noise on display here, the guitars do function with a sense of structure, linear motion, and internal logic. The controlled chaos of death metal sits like a guiding hand behind the immediacy of the presentation as it directs the swells and releases of energy in a predetermined direction; an insurance policy against total entropic collapse.

Despite the obvious blackened grind pedigree of ‘Nereidean Seismic End’, their riff style sits much closer to black metal than many comparable artists. This is a far cry from the trebly winter soaked variants of black metal from an aesthetic standpoint, but many of the chord progressions reach for a sense of heroism that lurk as a shadow of unrealised potential, a background motivation supplementing the nihilism of atonality. Colliding these with simple, tritone chord drones and mild dissonance gives the music an undeniable sense of activity and conflict.

The latter of which is in short supplier given the deliberately two dimensional percussive approach on this album. A near constant barrage of blast-beats, rolling fills, crash cymbals, and not much else besides makes up the rhythmic philosophy on display here, which, if nothing else, serves to give the music an agreeably unstable foundation, never letting the listener orientate themselves to a familiar time signature. Vocals are perhaps the most comfortably black metal element on ‘Nereidean Seismic End’, albeit with a pronounced sense of urgency borrowed from modern hardcore punk, lending the music a street level realism not common within the usually nihilistic abstractions of the genre.

Hadopelagyal veer away from furnishing their music with anything approaching atmospherics. The effects that are deployed seem tailored toward making the music present as immediate, as enveloping as possible, with almost no sense of space to be had. The result is a fraught smothering, the sensation of near total enclosure. This textural monotony is so comprehensive and persistent from beginning to end that it almost becomes compelling.

Such a rampantly minimalist approach is certainly a welcome stylistic break with convention. But Hadopelagyal are canny enough to work in some musical language to supplement this barren sonic picture without compromising their out and proud will-to-noise ethos. Indeed, conventional harmonic material looks almost farcical when presented in this setting, but it is a farce that evokes images of the horrific in the mind of the listener rather than anything remotely comical.  

Gutvoid: Durance of Lightless Horizons
Out 23rd September on Blood Harvest

The debut album from Canada’s Gutvoid seems tailor made for Blood Harvest’s current roster of spacey, psychedelic death metal with a futurist axe to grind. Above average? Most certainly. Predictable? For the most part. Forward thinking? In an aesthetic sense definitely, but stylistically the naval gazing is borderline tiresome. ‘Durance of Lightless Horizons’ is a slow, lumbering beast of meaty, ethereal death metal dripping with melodic doom, slow catchy riffs, and soaring cyclical lead guitars all geared toward crafting an oppressive, chasmic experience, a listen more absorbing than it is brutalising.

To that end the production is relatively soft. The guitar tone, despite its considerable chunk, is not one designed for bight but for energetic drones of grim inevitability. When the pace gets going the riffs pivot on an easy to follow memorability over anything particularly challenging. The result is not unpleasant, and indeed many of the lead refrains are married up into the riffs with considerable imagination. But seasoned fans of death/doom will not be met with any challenges to their preconceptions here.  

Drums are equally so-so, pivoting fills toward cycles of collapse and rebirth around the droning doom riffs rather than solidifying a clear percussive architecture. Again, whilst not a total detriment, many of the stylistic leanings would be more at home in the loose informalities of doom metal proper than in slow death metal that nevertheless must craft a sense of solidity and clear purpose in order to hammer home its intent. There are moments of energy certainly, but all too frequently these fall into flat predictability or well worn out derivations.

Gutvoid are masters of mood music. They strike out with a strong character as far as lead guitar and its matrimony to tonal and atmospheric intent is concerned. But supplementing these welcome atmospherics with a substantive death metal riff philosophy has proved to be beyond them on ‘Durance of Lightless Horizons’. That’s not to say there is no redemption here. The riffing is creative, the execution is solid. But one can here the influences all too clearly over any novel character yet to fully form. Or else we fall back on contrivance and the cheap tricks of the “catchy” to get by.

This leaves Gutvoid with a choice. Either play to their strengths and dispense with an explicitly death metal framework in favour of atmospheric melodic death doom of a more romanticist aspiration. Or take the harder road of sharpening their ability to compose and execute the surprisingly subtle art of death metal riffology, and take a second run at the ‘Durance of Lightless Horizons’ framework with chops suitably improved.

Upon the Altar/DeathEpoch: split
Out 16th September on Putrid Cult

Two of the stronger contenders in Poland’s underground scene band together for this split from Putrid Cult. Both offering a brand of blackened grind that has gained greater currency in recent years, posing as a deconstructive project but in reality operating as a forest fire; an act of apparently meaningless destruction that is nevertheless necessary for life’s renewal. In eking out such a constricting aesthetic space, new sonic potentials find if not their realisation then at least their germinal.

Upon the Altar open this EP with a generous dose of blackened grind ripped straight from the textbook of Beherit, Blasphemy, Profanatica, and of course Teitanblood. But one can find death metal riffs secreted beneath the down-tuned tremolo barrage and ghostly textural range, with nods to the colourful pastures of crisp and clear old school death metal easily discernible. But ultimately, this is an act of devolution in contrast to the strict formalities of much extreme metal.

Primitive but expressive drums use percussive literalism as a weapon, filling out the implied musicality of the riffs themselves with simple patterns that construct their own expressive logic in defiance of the more technical performances found in death metal. Guitars are awash with smoky reverb, down-tuned throbbing, a viscous mud of earthy doom laden riffs that undulate between battering rams of tremolo picking and tectonic doom riffing. Vocals stride atop the mess with monstrously ritualistic invocations, restricting the music’s emotional range into a corner where only aggression and darkness can find true expression.

Contrast is forthcoming however, as eerie atmospherics bubble to the surface and force the music to give pause on particular moments and moods, providing welcome rumination in defiance of the impetus to speed. And this is ultimately what marks Upon the Altar out against many similar operators. The desire to oppress the listener is fully realised via the offering of olive branches of reprisal before the next barrage sets in, pulling the listener back into the experience, ensuring their buy in for a further round of brutalisation.

DeathEpoch follow up with three lengthier tracks of borderline avant-gardist metal. Although ultimately of the same hew as Upon the Altar, DeathEpoch are the stylistic travellers of the pair whilst Upon the Altar are the fixed abode artisans. DeathEpoch trade on a blackened grind framework played through the lens of an industrial band, but weave in elements of sludge metal, hardcore punk, electronica, and other miscellany, all whilst maintaining a firm grip on the unsung virtues of aesthetic austerity.

The production sits very much within the industrial black metal setting, with guitars clustered around a harsh immediacy, forcing the listener into an unavoidable claustrophobia, underpinned by tinny yet consistent drums that trade on simple, persistent beats with little in the way of creative fills or angular rhythmic emphasis. This latter choice feels highly appropriate however given the blunt axe DeathEpoch are ultimately wielding to hone their craft.  

Although the explicitly industrial passages sometimes feel a little out of keeping next to the blackened grind backbone of these tracks, one can allow a little more room for experimentation in the setting of an EP. And DeathEpoch make no secret of their overt desire to throw genres, textures, tempos, and divergent techniques together, often in the most jarring manner possible. But this is far from an obnoxious exercise in empty eclecticism, with the quirky undertones of these compositions working in their favour more than their detriment.  

This EP makes for a welcome marriage of two highly distinct artists working in what is often dismissed as a suffocatingly restrictive field, further demonstrating in regards to such blanket dismissals that it’s often not the genre that’s at fault but a lack of imagination on the part of its chief operators.  

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