Conjureth: The Parasitic Chambers
Out 23rd January on Memento Mori
Conjureth continue their quest to meld ‘Legion’ era Deicide with the out and proud “weird” of early Finnish death metal, stitched together with a healthy dose of dark percussive thrash worked in as the binding agent within this taut recipe. The ingredients are familiar, their combination, pleasingly novel, the execution, near flawless. Conjureth are a rare example of a modern death metal band totally at ease with their own identity, to the point where they can make heavy reference to any number of distinct styles without danger of their true character being swallowed into a holding pattern of inert cultural reference points.
As ever, the presentation is meaty yet sharp. Jagged, staccato chromatic riff play finds its articulation through a guitar tone able to express high end abrasion despite its pronounced bass heavy rumble. The buzzsaw murk of Swedish death metal is supplemented by the clarity and aggression of early Deicide. Drums offer a wet slap of percussive punches defined by a deep throb, with a cavalcade of cymbal rich fills populating these tracks with ordered chaos. Vocals offer the usual battering ram of guttural aggression supplemented by a pronounced rhythmic nuance, and plenty of maniacal high end screeches raising the dramatic stakes when it counts.
The thrill of listening to Conjureth lies in their ability to provide a flowing, unified vision articulated over the course of an entire LP, but when one studies the microcosmic building blocks that make up this edifice one finds an apparent veneer of chaos, disorder, conflicting tonal and rhythmic swaps that are set in a constant battle to gain mastery over the musical governance. But in stepping back and taking the tracks in holistically, it is clear that the rampant anomie is only skin deep. Every chromatic tangent, every traditionally melodic refrain, and every off kilter drum pattern are reintegrated into the body of these compositions, their place and purpose gradually revealed to the listener after patient study.
This is ultimately why Conjureth stand head and shoulders above their contemporaries, many of whom make louder overtures as to their old school credentials. The aesthetic is nailed on ‘The Parasitic Chambers’ for sure. But more importantly this is a work of subtle and incremental riff administration that uses chaos as a means to greater complexity, an illusion that pulls us in, revealing new dimensions of order and systematic unity unavailable to other forms of music. Death metal’s hidden nuances remain a closely guarded secret.
Bad Manor: The Haunting
Out 28th January on Labyrinth Tower
Eyebrows raise whenever an artist seems overly enamoured with the extra musical aspects of their work. The concept, the lyrical themes, their source material, when musicians become so enthralled with these elements, they are in danger of forgetting that they are first and foremost musicians engaged in a dialog with scenic history, instead thinking of themselves as experience quest facilitators. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t like being given a reading list and being told it is a pre-requisite to understanding the “transcendental cerebral vision journey” of some Herbert from New Jersey.
It is with some trepidation then, that we approach Bad Manor and their debut multimedia experience ‘The Haunting’. But if we set aside the gumpf for a moment, what we have here is an interesting little take on psychedelic black metal that warrants comparison to A Forest of Stars (especially in the vocal department). But where my cherished Leodensians are chiefly concerned with establishing a dialog between progressive metal and DSBM, Bad Manor take a more explicitly Hammer Horror approach, folding in elements of retro psychedelia alongside eerie black metal. Imagine Gehenna circa ‘First Spell’ transported back to the 60s, into a rehearsal room with Coven.
Production is suitably raw, lending this melding that on paper looks like a disaster a degree of legitimacy and gruff abrasion that helps to sweeten the pill for any potentially reluctant route-one metalheads. Loud, energetic drums dominate the mix with linear yet creative rhythmic patterns from basic mid-paced blast-beats to subtle elements of shuffle and swing that work well in the context.
Abrasively tinny guitars fill out the mid-range with a jagged tone that would be at home on the most lo-fi of raw black metal releases. They are accompanied by a swelling organ tone and other haunting synth miscellany. The mix is kept narrow enough to make timbre identification a guessing game at times, but this serves Bad Manor’s needs well in illuminating the disorientating, intoxicating brand of mysticism on display here.
The music itself is expressed via melodies as drab as they are droll. Minor key iterations of ditties that should sound lyrical, almost poppy, are here recontextualised into nightmarish configurations, thus playing into the preoccupation of classical horror in playful manipulations of the domestic turned uncanny. Vocals adopt an almost arhythmic spoken word approach. Thus lending credence to the impression that ‘The Haunting’ is a theatrical performance with an overly zealous musical accompaniment. Elements of ethereal black metal melodicism, swirling stoner doom fog, and even classic heavy metal epicism are all deployed to expand the thematic picture across this album.
Ultimately, ‘The Haunting’ is a work that toys with humour, the camp, irony, and misdirection, all dangerous conceptual tools in the highly policed cultural corridors of metal. But, much like A Forest of Stars, they arrive at a destination far more legitimately artistic than the thing first appears on paper. Sometimes you can do everything wrong, but if the vision is powerful enough, and the execution limited enough to see the vision through, one can still come out very much on top when compared to artists that choose to play it safe.
Ashen Tomb: Ashem Tomb
Out 20th January on Personal Records
This is good *ends review*.
We do have fun here. But sincerely, this is a brief EP of solid, biting death metal that sees elements of Autopsy’s playful bounce elevated to a grim sobriety via the Finnish weird, and elements of sophisticated, nay dramatic aggression a-la Bolt Thrower at the height of their powers.
Ashen Tomb offer three tight, chunky tracks of mid-paced death metal that work in aspects of doom, forlorn melodic interchanges defined by their drab emotional palette, and a regal primalism injected at the level of the vocals and the cutting drum fills that work in a swelling energy neath the crunch of guitars.
All these distinct elements are aided by a mix that is panoramic whilst remaining true to the grounded hyper-realism of the enthrallingly despondent chord progressions. But Ashen Tomb are not without their speed elements. Passages of frantic blast-beats and urgently dense riff segments serve to chop up the cheerlessly droll preoccupations of the guitars’ melodic philosophy. This not only layers up the compositions, but extends the artistic reach of Ashen Tomb, allowing them to morph death metal into a subtle and nuanced expression of philosophical yearning alongside its prima facie obsession with destructive nihilism and all the thrilling possibilities this implies.
A mature and distinctive debut EP that offers a refreshingly self-assured identity whilst remaining secure enough in said identity to fit snuggly into well established norms within the death metal genre.
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