Beats and yelling from: Thulsa Doom, VoidOath, Voak

Thulsa Doom: A Fate Worse than Death
Out 30th September on Invictus Productions

Italian newcomers Thulsa Doom stick their oar in on the contested picture of contemporary death metal for their debut album. Bolting a pre-1990 blackened thrash framework onto more complex and elongated riff philosophies of fully formed death metal, Thulsa Doom present a picture of controlled chaos on ‘A Fate Worse than Death’. Oftentimes the desire to channel that carefree old school energy is hampered by the burden of knowledge and instant audience feedback that defines modern music scenes. But Thulsa Doom do not allow the constrictions of social media driven metal trends to restrict their will to craft genuine if straightforward extreme metal with a degree of danger and bite.

Although this album owes a clear debt to early South American extreme metal as much as it does pre-Floridian ascension US death metal, they supplement such well worn trails with a distinctive melodic picture, using this to marshal the inherent chaos of thrash into more complex and ultimately more rewarding artefacts of pleasingly self-contained extreme metal. Link riffs abound. The focus may be on delivering infectious atonal speed thrills with hardcore punk in its DNA, but bridge riffs of a sophisticated melodic character serve to segment these into manageable boxes of controlled chaos, giving the impression that Thulsa Doom – despite the rampantly frantic foregrounding – are always in control of proceedings.

Scant but well placed solos bridge these two competing impulses, at times enhancing the chaos with directionless fretboard assaults of screaming energy, but just as liable to offer surprisingly nuanced and structured lyrical passages that seem to soar above the conflict below, transcending and defying context. Drums, despite blending into the aggressively percussive distortion of the guitars, offer effective rhythmic framing devices, galloping along with the unbridled energy of the fast passages, and chopping up the slower passages with creative yet direct fills that serve to fragment and unsettle the more controlled elements of the music.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the package on offer, beneath the hood of this album a complex interplay of competing philosophies is at work, with each contrasting element only serving to raise the stakes for the other. As the speed and primitivism grows more intense, the melodic character and structural build of certain passages only matures in complexity. And this is ultimately what makes ‘A Fate Worse than Death’ a more compelling listen than many albums of an aesthetically comparable quality, which lack the underlying architecture to justify their thematic selections. For all its speed and energy, this album is a slow burn of extreme metal challenging itself to do better.

VoidOath: Ascension Beyond Kokytus
Out 30th September on Cognitive Discordance Records/Cursed Monk Records

This laboured slab of cold sludge metal manages to unsettle with its tantric attitude to pacing, whilst maintaining a fluid atmosphere of alienating inertia throughout. ‘Ascension Beyond Kokytus’ is the debut album from this Costa Rican outfit, and sees them enter the stage with a concept album as fully formed as their ability to execute it. Combining the open hollowness of early Ahab with the aggression and groove of sludge with hints of death/doom, rather than trading on genre specificity, VoidOath strike forth with an identity of their own that wields genre tropes as a means to craft their vision.

The production is huge, imposing yet somehow warm and welcoming at the same time. Drums anchor all with a truly massive sound, retaining that earthy, organic quality that brings this album aesthetically in line with a sludge metal colouring. The guitar follows suit in offering a hazy, richly distorted tone. But the production is dynamic enough to allow the guitars to explore a range of textural colours, from cold black metal, to the abrasion of chaotic noise rock, to the monstrous power of death metal, and undiluted droning doom metal.

A thundering bass tone rumbles beneath this plethoric assembly, grounding the music with a chest vibrating foundation of larger than life power. Guttural death metal vocals underpin it all with chasmic reverb drenched ejaculations, othering the listener with violent alienation. A distant clean voice can be heard at times, offering howls of all too human despair to give the music an underlayer of intimacy.

Ultimately, despite the many genre reference points flagged across ‘Ascension Beyond Kokytus’, this album stands as a work in its own right without the need to assess its merits as a sludge or doom album. VoidOath manage to conjure an atmosphere fitting for the John Carpenter inspired thematic choices, and compositionally are able to wield this materiel into oppressive yet diverse pieces of weighty doom laden metal. They patiently build each track into dramatic finales replete with simple yet effective melodic builds, trading on mild dissonance and dynamics to build tension. Tempos are treated as a means to tease the listener, only letting loose into a blast-beat at the last possible moment before the music would collapse into tedium. All of which ultimately makes for a taut and well structured experience, paying off every moment of frustrated momentum with interest.

Voak: Verdrängung
Out 30th September on I, Voidhanger Records

Bracingly fast melodic black metal bounds forth following a downbeat piano intro for this debut album from Voak, a newly formed Greek black metal outfit. Combining elements of hardcore punk, frantic black metal, and post punk into a tight, dense, yet remarkably uncluttered picture of clear and crisp extreme metal. Despite the back to basics setup, ‘Verdrängung’ is replete with musical reference points and interesting little segues.

The production is clear and crisp, adopting a balance between the cold prerequisites of black metal with a warmer, more intimate aesthetic fitting for the marked punk influences lurking behind these tracks. Drums and guitars are perhaps the most unadorned element on here, offering a professional polish whilst remaining almost completely free of heavy handed atmospheric flourish. Bass is fully audible beneath the mix, at times acting as the lead instrument, offering galloping riffs to bolster the fraught energy that stretches across this brief album. Vocals – in keeping with the punk ethos – blend hardcore urgency with black metal mysticism to create a potent and emotive mix of rousing calls to action.

Other instruments – including pianos and violins – crop up sparingly to expand the timbral range of the album, but they remain in keeping with the organic, realist philosophy of this music, with no artificial symphonics deployed to supplement the guitars.

And this really sums up the experience of ‘Verdrängung’. A bare bones presentation bent on achieving a degree of authenticity and sincerity, but directing this impetus through the choices regarding presentation and aesthetics, all of which are deliberately self-limited. But the music itself is a nutritionally rich array, seeing the marriage of differing yet complementary riff traditions via black metal, melodic punk, post punk, and folk. All of which suit the urgent protest music of Voak down to a tee.

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