Amon Acid: Cosmogony
Out 18th November on Helter Skelter Productions/Regain Records
Amon Acid offer their latest album ‘Cosmogony’ as the continuity candidate for their by now signature style. A blend of swirling Hawkwind-esque space rock, weighty occultist stoner doom riffing, and ponderously psychedelic melodic licks are all intact across this lengthy release, but all are whipped into an imposing fervour of understated malevolence.
Amon Acid toy with the extended, structureless jams of stoner doom, anchored by loose grooves and elongated fills, but they populate these expanses of murky fuzz with sharp, clean guitar leads that sound like they were written for the sitar. By filling these sparsely heavy musical landscapes with a degree of delicacy they also justify the length of these extended jam sessions beyond mere indulges of heaviness for its own sake. There is real import, meaning, and intent at play across these achingly slow doom pieces.
It goes without saying that the mechanics behind Amon Acid’s sound have been significantly beefed up to cope with their expanded vision. Drums – arguably the most important aspect in making any form of doom metal come to life – eschew simply laying down anchoring blues beats, instead choosing to ceaselessly interact with the rhythmic emphasis of the riffs, offering colliding fills and the push and pull of tense ride cymbals before a release of crashes to drive home the impact.
Guitars are equally dynamic, offering a suitably fuzzy, murky distortion to weigh down the mix, but these are offset by the delicacy of frequent leads, adding complexity and nuance to the primitive urges of stoner doom. Distorted bass drives home the size of the music, offering a degree of gravitas during even the most mellow of passages. Deep, gruff, clean vocals narrate their way through these sonic battleships, again giving Amon Acid another melodic lever to pull on, layering up the complexity in ways that would not be available had they opted for an atonal distorted style.
The actual stoner doom flavour on ‘Cosmogony’ is decidedly typical for the genre, offering nothing much beyond the standard Electric Wizard worship that defined the style ever since the release of ‘Dopethrone’. But Amon Acid are merely using these riff stylings as a backdrop, to flavour the tracks, give them body. The real star of the show is the fusion of Indian and Middle Eastern influences via 60s psychedelia with the restless miasma of space rock. This gives these tracks not only identifiable hooks and layers of complexity – both musical and cultural – but also a unique atmosphere that marks it apart.
In fleshing out of their aesthetic offering, Amon Acid have moved closer to conventional doom in order to add gravitas and weight to their sound. But they have retained the elements that make them special, and used this re-solidified foundation to let their less earthbound creative urges soar into the cosmos, whilst retaining a degree of focus and clarity that never lets their music dissolve into overindulgence.
The chasmic nihilism that underpins a significant portion of underground experimental metal at present finds a compellingly playful counterweight on ‘Cerebral Alchemy’, the debut album from the Slovenian outfit known as Kamra. The usual miasma of bracing dissonance, cyclical mid-paced drum patterns of tribal tom pounding and double bass artillery, and monolithic guitar tones can be found across this release, but they are subtly offset by a light sprinkling of playful, almost bouncy drumbeats and a strangely homely bass tone (in context).
This is further emphasised by the fact that Kamra are not simply dissonance merchants through and through. They offset this with some well placed major chords that come across as almost comforting rather than haunting, but again, this tends to work in the context of what is at heart decidedly atmospheric metal.
‘Cerebral Alchemy’, like many comparable releases from today’s Ruins of Beverast worshipers, sounds like it was recorded in a cathedral. The drums are perhaps the most grounded instrument, which is just as well given the dense performance, offering a full bodied yet solidified sound that allows the listener at least some grounding in rhythmic stability. The guitar tone is spacey and reverb driven, pivoting on washes of layered chords to build up the atmosphere. Plenty of space is granted for riff manipulation certainly, but the emphasis is on the vibe behind each riff rather than the immediacy of their musical content. Vocals veer from strained black metal rasps to distant, guttural howls, all cloaked in yet more reverb.
All of which brings the aesthetic package on ‘Cerebral Alchemy’ very much in line with any recent run of the mill caverncore release. But Kamra are not mere mood artisans, there is real musical content behind these pieces, one that trades on what could be considered traditional melodic narratives. These are deployed as secondary characters, signposts of dramatic significance that provide not only respite from the dissonance and ascending air raid siren chord progressions, but a context and meaning behind the more abrasive elements.
These more traditional melodic inflections are further enhanced by a drum performance that occasionally falls into bouncy punk rhythms, letting the crash cymbal rest for a few measures, allowing the mix to breathe and transition to the next phase. Kamra go further and deploy odd clean guitar interludes of ambiguous melodic content and idiosyncratic vocalisations that serve to elevate the tension without swamping the listener in additional noise theatricalities.
It may be true that Kamra still have more to do to warrant their existence as distinct from the current landscape of much underground extreme metal, but they have taken the first step in offering a debut of solid if sparsely populated novelty alongside an immersive textural experience.
Judas Goat: Incantations of Black Mass
Out 31st October, self-released
Judas Goat tap into that sweet spot of late 80s Bathory that still had one foot in dark thrash and overt displays of sonic violence. The duality in Quorthon’s work at that tim,e between ever more epic expressions of Viking mythology and the need to satisfy the still fledging extreme metal tendency is swept clear on ‘Incantations of Black Mass’, leaving nothing but a tight, dark, playful rendering of dirty, largely atonal black metal.
The production is relatively warm if lacking in dynamics. No icy, angular edges, no expanses of atmospheric interludes. Even the lead guitar work is kept remarkably free of reverb a-la ‘Under the Sign of the Black Mark’, instead favouring an immediacy that is both DIY and very much wants the listener to be aware of the fact.
Despite the hyperbole that tends to accompany such overtly back-to-basics statements of metallic intent, Judas Goat are not without their sophistication. For instance, the title track pivots on a dirt simple two chord interchange, before working in some well placed tension via a drop in tempo and sustained droning chords, before reaching a finale of darkly characterful melodic intent. Simple by any reasonable standards, but effective and fluid in actuality.
Even relatively primitive styles such as this have their tropes, mores, conventions, and subtle tricks of narrative manipulation that make the tracks hang together convincingly. The connoisseur can instantly tell that Judas Goat are not simply throwing some genre signifiers together in the hope of reaching a ready made audience of pre-existing fans of the style, but have a genuine love and knowledge of their craft.
UK punk is the unsung hero sitting underneath many of these tracks, as pounding hardcore barrages trade blows with blast-beats and bouncy back-beats. Many of the less angular riffs hark back to early Onslaught, or even The Exploited and Discharge for their sense of energetic bombast. This offsets the explicitly occultist aesthetic with a welcome sense of play. It also adds an element of memorability to many of the riffs. Some are downright catchy, some come over as homages to classic thrash riffs of old, just on the right side of derivative.
‘Incantations of Black Mass’ feels like the album Quorthon could have made in 1988 instead of ‘Blood Fire Death’. Well, he made half an album comparable to this, but instead spent his time and energy fleshing out his Viking concept metal. Whilst no one could argue that this was the wrong choice – we have ‘Hammerheart’ and ‘Twilight of the Gods’ after all – alternative histories are still fascinating. Judas Goat offer us a glimpse into the continuation of Quorthon’s early forays into black metal, before it was wrested by his Norwegian neighbours and taken in an entirely distinct direction.