Beats and yelling from: Wolves in Winter, Omega Infinity, FesterDecay

Wolves in Winter: The Calling Quiet
Out 24th February on Argonauta Records

Wolves in Winter are the latest chapter in the lengthy annals of West Yorkshire doom metal. With members of Monolith Cult, Lazarus Blackstar, Solstice, and Iron Rat joining forces on ‘The Calling Quiet’. Superficially, this is an agreeably drab iteration of damp Northern misery, but one that contains many hidden layers of colour and light beneath the murk.

This is the sonic equivalent of a mature stew, one that sees a broad blend of flavours and textures brought together in harmony, a subtle expression of genre alchemy without the fanfare that normally comes with such broad stylistic blending. Downbeat melodic elements reminiscent of My Dying Bride melt seamlessly into the roadhouse rock of Danzig – albeit with a humorous misery that only the Brits seem capable of bringing – which in turn is bolstered by the more cinematic aspirations of stoner and sludge metal. Soaring melodic content of the Solstice variety brings it further in line with a traditionally metallic lineage, thus stretching the music into a panorama of cultural references points both domestic and esoteric.

The result is music grounded with a sense of realism whilst reaching for ambitious expressions of sonic landscaping. The production is suitably massive, catering to both the immediate needs of aggressive sludge and the more ethereal aspirations of foggy melodic doom. A massive guitar tone does not prevent the riffs from flexing some staccato muscle at times, as on the track ‘Promised Harvest’. The loose drone threading throughout the album solidifies into a coherent whole when it counts.

Drums are equally powerful, offering a swell of crashing rhythmic waves without overpowering the rest of the mix. Thundering bass follows the peaks and troughs of the drums, offering subtle accents and textural rumblings to fill the gaps between each droning chord. Vocals flirt with Danzig-esque crooning, but pivot away from the background spectre of Elvis toward a tone more fitting for the power and theatre of the metal setting.

This album is unmistakably a product of the Yorkshire doom scene, but far from being derivative it marshals the strongest aspects of this lengthy and diverse history into a tight and coherent work of subtly ambitious melodic doom, articulated through the lens of stoner and sludge metal. It does not smack the listener around the face with orchestration, activity, aggression, or wanton abrasion. the endeavour here is more understated, offering a strangely wistful experience, heavy, miserable, but oddly bright at the same time. Typifying a style, and ushering in the next chapter.

Omega Infinity: The Anticurrent
Out 24th February on Season of Mist

I suppose if Dead Brain Cells had released ‘Universe’ in 2023 it may have sounded like this. I’m not sure if this is a compliment to Omega Infinity or a damning indictment of how the last thirty plus years have led to music defined by its superfluousness. Imagine Darkspace with a progressive metal rhythm section, the chasmic industrial randomness of Axis of Perdition, the Dragonforce grind of Anaal Nathrakh, and of course Mayhem’s ‘Ordo ad Chao’, an album that’s proving to be as influential on modern extreme metal as ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ at this point.

‘The Anticurrent’ is a concept album documenting nothing short of the creation of the universe through to its ultimate end. This is expressed via a rich brew of progressive, industrial black metal with a good ear for the operatic. For all its frustrating tangents, its bloated opinion of its own significance, its perhaps over indulgence in what we’ll call the unconventional, there is direction here, forethought, a degree of purpose that makes this an album worth listening to, at least more so than anything Ne Obliviscaris have put out.

‘The Anticurrent’ adopts a form of pulsing meta flow, whereby extended passages of blasting percussive barrages, wanton dissonance, and loose black metal riffing are arrested by more ethereal, spacey interludes of dark ambient and industrial noise. The contradiction between these two elements defines the phrasing of the album, and allows the listener to situate themselves in the structure despite the explicitly disorientating delivery of the music itself.

Aesthetically, this album is a tightly regimented piece of engineering, with every element finely tuned to bring about the desired effect. The guitars are relatively low in the mix, allowing a swirl of synth noise, pianos, echoey guttural vocals, and murky reverb static to drench all with a dark, open aesthetic. Drums, despite their clarity, are equally suppressed, as if we are hearing them from across a valley. All is distant, liminal, low, but not without a sense of power and threat. The only thing that is not covered in a swirl of reverb are the keyboards, which make frequent appearances in the form of choppy strings, ambient synths, and surprisingly domesticated piano lines. But this proves to be a subtle and effective way to flesh out the mix without sacrificing the spacey undertones.

But ultimately, this chat only scratches the surface of ‘The Anticurrent’. Concept albums documenting a universal chronology are nothing new in the history of metal, and this is far from being the worst attempt. But it suffers from the same syndrome that a lot of progressive and symphonic metal does at present, particularly that of the darker, more extreme variety. The fat needs to be trimmed. The editing process more ruthless. The word “brevity” needs to be plastered all over the practice room during the writing process.

Buried under all this surplus activity is a tight, well paced work of progressive industrial black metal. But one must fight and strive for this beneath extended passages where nothing is really happening, despite the music being rife with activity. ‘The Anticurrent’, far from being a total dud, is rather a justification for the idea that every band should employ a censor, who just randomly cuts pieces from the music until only what is absolutely necessary remains, a midwife for true artistic efficiency.

FesterDecay: Reality Rotten to the Core
Out 24th February on Everlasting Spew Records

There’s really not much to say about this album that you can’t garner from the title and cover art. But it’s certainly refreshing to see early (and superior) Carcass get a hearing on this debut from Japan’s FesterDecay. It’s also good to see goregrind being brought back to first principles as an artform that at least had a pretence of sincerity. There’s certainly humour at work here, a flavouring deployed to enhance the impact, but the work itself feels like it has been treated with a veneer of seriousness.

‘Reality Rotten to the Core’ brings grindcore back to its essence. The sharp musicianship, overly choppy rhythmic punches, the crystalline production values, the ridiculous vocals, all have been swept away here in favour of sloppiness incarnate. As far as contemporary grindcore is concerned the music is relatively slow, adopting an old school hardcore bounce instead of the restless lightening fast blasts of modern grind. This allows FesterDecay to inject some rhythmic variation into the mix, lurching from sloppy blast-beats to pounding d-beats with ease.

Guitars pivot on simple power chord riffs that have more in common with early Napalm Death than they do Carcass. But complexity lurks beneath the mulch, basic developments are given time to air out and see the light of day. Indeed, many of the tracks stretch to over the two minute mark, allowing time for themes to grow and fester. Vocals are a varied package of inhuman rasping, guttural burps, and the occasional wail of despair. Again, in offering a more diverse package than the usual crop of goregrind bands – not exactly a difficult feat – FesterDecay immediately stand out as being more creative and thoughtful in the contemporary picture, despite the obvious fact that this act exists chiefly as an homage.

This is not just a return to roots for grind as far as aesthetics and ethos are concerned. FesterDecay toy with absurdist horror, they express the ridiculous via some of the riff patterns, the illogical, the twisted and incomprehensible tangents that made grind more than just an exercise in shock value for its own sake, a monomaniacal rumination on decay, with all the warped hilarity and horror that flows from the brute fact of the process.

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