Beats and yelling from: Hail Conjurer, Live Burial, Aura Mortis

Hail Conjurer: Earth Penetration
Out 23rd September on Signal Rex/Bestial Burst

The latest album from Hail Conjurer offers an interestingly brief blend of entropic, repetitive black metal, loosely strung together via Black Sabbathian rhythms seemingly designed for informal and unstructured jams normally considered out of place in a setting such as this. Tonally the music is kept squarely in the realm of harsh yet mournful hooks, delivered almost deliberately out of tune as a means of enhancing the abrasion. This is supplemented by keyboards played through distortion effects which both elevates the already alienating timbral character of the music whilst extending the stylistic offering into nightmarish psychedelia.

This interesting blend of harsh, slow, ruminating black metal with musical flourishes that harken back to a 70s jam setting marks ‘Earth Penetration’ out as a curiosity within modern black metal. Drums flow from loose, almost bluesy grooves to stilting, stop-start patterns played at depressed tempos, bringing some of these tracks to the borders of doom metal. Generous and foregrounded crash cymbals and deep, throbbing toms make for a combination more fitting for various forms of stoner doom than of typical black metal.

The guitar tone is ghoulishly thin, working through simple repeated sequences almost to the point of being unbearable. Unlike the usual wash of tremolo strummed riffs blazing by in galloping glory, the slower tempos on this release and the frustrated pacing makes each hook a laboured ordeal to work through. This is supplemented by an oppressively loud bass guitar, thundering away with punk like aggression, doing its level best to fill out the mid-range of the mix into the bargain. Vocals explore a range of tortured howls, monstrous in their theatricality, touching on a range of pitches and emotive intensity throughout the course of this album.

As ‘Earth Penetration’ progresses the experimental elements become ever more explicit. The psychedelia quickly gives way to borderline noise segments, and fascinatingly spontaneous meanderings of droning melodies, off centre drumming, and unpredictable emotive intent. The pieces seem to flirt with total devolution into unstructured noise rock before pulling themselves back into a recognisably black metal melodic structure, before diving straight back into aggressively drab horror aesthetics, pivoting on a push and pull between the eerie and the threatening.

Hail Conjurer have succeeded in genre alchemy as a trojan horse, blending styles and techniques without making this the centrepiece of the music itself. ‘Earth Penetration’ is an undeniably weird album from whichever angle one approaches it, but it is thus and so in a totally natural and uncontrived manner. The eccentricities of its many stylistic leanings work in conjunction with each other to create this bizarre, unpredictable, and eminently novel experience.

Live Burial: Curse of the Forlorn
Out 23rd September on Transcending Obscurity Records

Geordie death metallers Live Burial return for album number three. The jump in quality evinced on ‘Curse of the Forlorn’ fashions a pleasingly neat ascension on our line graph tracking this artist’s trajectory. ‘Curse of the Forlorn’ is definitely the beginning of something truly impressive for this outfit however, elevating them from a notable also-ran of Britdeath to a leading player on the international scene. Live Burial’s brand of death metal is a seamless melding of energetic aggression with nuanced emotive intent. This album still has DIY written into its DNA, but there is an undeniable degree of regal sophistication at play behind not just the melodic offering, but also the slick delivery.

Live Burial blend elements of percussive hardcore of the Suffocation variety of death metal with traditional melodic material borrowed from a Northern European lineage, creating a frantic yet immersive experience. Everything is soaked in cold reverb, as if the album were recorded in a cathedral, yet it retains an impressive degree of coherence given the taught and restless nature of these compositions. Drums are perhaps the crispest instrument, with a tinny yet rich snare sound serving as a solid anchor within the music. The bass also cuts through well, lending some much needed body given the relatively high-end guitars. The latter of which offer a massive sound, sharp enough to allow full articulation of the complex riffscape on display here, but displaying a cavernous reverb that lends these tracks a pronounced sense of grandeur. Solos and lead melodies are delivered more with atmospheric and emotive intent in mind than anything overtly showy or technical. They elevate the music into epic narratives of aspirational death metal.

Vocals are kept distant in the mix. Delivered at the higher end of the spectrum, they lend the music melodramatic qualities, a theatrical core that again marks this out as a different variety of death metal to the dense meanderings of swampcore releases that lend on my desk each week.

Although keyboards are only deployed on the opener ‘Despair of the Lost Self’, there is a marked symphonic vibe that extends across many of the pieces in spite of the straightforward guitar/drum setup. The intensity and flow of many of the riffs, supplemented by soaring lead refrains and a pronounced melodic offering – side-lining the atonal – all make ‘Curse of the Forlorn’ come over as if it were written with a string section in mind. Many of the lead melodies and thematic material could easily be transposed to keyboards. The icily harsh guitar tone affords this album a fantastical quality, an absorbing yet oddly alienating experience replete with different stakes and moral codings to our daily mundanities.

Aura Mortis: Aion Teleos
Out 4th September on Schattenkult Produktionen/Zly Demiurg

Offering a crisp and clear trek into grim obscurity, the debut album from this Serbian outfit presents a similarly alienating experience to the many forays into dissonant black metal coming out in recent years, albeit here delivered within a traditional melodic framework. Blast-beats meet with jagged rhythmic interplays, mixing the illusion of stasis with ever shifting foundations. Riffs circle about this swirling percussive offering by centring themselves on a cold oppressiveness, replete with a relentless minor key orientation that barely lets up throughout the course of the album. This stilted, frantic, harsh form of black metal, trading on disorientating rhythmic variety, is usually covered in harsh dissonance to further obfuscate the picture. But Aura Mortis, despite eschewing the invigoratingly cold tremolo picked riffs of archetypical black metal, keep their tonal choices surprisingly traditional all the same.

‘Aion Teleos’ is a black metal album through and through certainly, but stylistically it is almost entirely riff based. This is no exercise in textural interplay or atmospheric ruminations. The guitar tone is homogenous across all tracks, offering a clear and crisp distortion orientated toward fully articulating riffs. No keyboards, no heavy handed reverb, no obscurantist trickery undertaken during the recording process. This is a direct, slick beast of fluid riffcract, unsettled by a restless rhythmic core that shifts between tempos and phrasal emphasis with predictable ease.

That being said the album is not without atmosphere, but it is kept deliberately monotonous throughout, affording the listener little else to latch onto besides the interplay of chord progressions. Vocals are low and chasmic, bottoming out the mix in place of any pronounced bass guitar. Despite the guitars offering clarity and immediacy, they embody a cold immediacy via a tone that is fit for articulating these flowing yet granular black metal riffs. The emptiness lurking behind this austere aesthetic landscape functions as implied atmosphere, an open space held back by the frantically busy extreme metal being delivered directly into the listeners veins.

‘Aion Teleos’ is a sparse, no thrills exercise in aggressive, direct black metal of a highly modernist and urbanist nature. The melodic identity is recognisable, but the delivery and overall drabness of the album places it within a similar remit to US acts such as latter day Krieg for combining traditional Scandinavian styles with a more direct, punk ethos of modest presentation, all for the sake of offering a singular rumination on one specific mood that is nevertheless articulated through a bustling array of ontological activity. An album as literally grim and cold in intent and impact if not in the traditional sense that these words would usually mean within the context of black metal.

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