Beats and yelling from: Carma, Maggot Crown, Tombstone

Carma: Ossadas
Out 3rd March on Monumental Rex

Somewhere between the grim realism of Esoteric and the yearning threnodies of Skepticism sits ‘Ossadas’, the latest album from Portugal’s Carma. This is a weighty tome of epic contemporary funeral doom. Why use the “contemporary” qualification? Because much like modern Skepticisim the music pivots away from the depressive despondency of early funeral doom toward epic, cathartic, highly melodic material pieced together from lengthy , building crescendos and slow releases of emotional energy.

But ‘Ossadas’ is not without its darkness, lifting elements from the drabber corners of black metal, some effective choral vocalisations adding a favour of theological despair, and a strong guitar tone bringing an underlayer of aggression when it counts. The production is suitably cinematic, crafting a large open space for these soundscapes to emerge all guns blazing. Thick yet organic sounding drums anchor the music, linking each droning chord with creative yet unintrusive fills, ensuring that the music retains its momentum even at its slowest ebb.

The guitar tone is rich yet oddly harsh. It eschews the thick lacquer of bass heavy tones common to doom metal in favour of a crisper, clearer tone suited to articulating the rich melodic layers that Carma unfold across these lengthy tracks. A sharp bass tone aids in this endeavour, bolstering the nuance of the rhythm section and allowing the lead guitars to soar into the ether untroubled by the domestic concerns of textural content.

Vocals fit the mould of low end, distorted crooning, a kind of emotive take on standard death metal vocalisations common to the melodic funeral doom genre because it allows for syllables to be elongated without over cluttering the emotive picture. And as mentioned, some well placed choral vocals crop up at regular intervals, lending the music additional gravitas when it counts. Incremental interludes of supressed brass, church bells, clean guitars, and spacey ambience help to break up the at times dense displays of achingly slow melodicism, allowing the album room to breathe and further articulate expressions of drab contemplation.

This is a weighty album, not without its clutter. But it manages to consolidate a diverse exhibition of some of the best elements from a variety of metal genres on the doomier side. The softer, wistful melodic content is tempered by moments of crushing darkness, just as the heaviness of the builds are wonderfully contrasted with the sparsity of interludes and understated intros. This means that despite its length, the emotive and thematic variety makes for an engaging listen in a genre that can sometimes bleed into the monotone. A worthy and creative addition to the annals of melodic doom of the more funereal variety.

Maggot Crown: Apparition of Faces
Out 1st March on Vargheist Records

From dogmatic prolificist Jared Moran comes perhaps one of his most recognisably direct works of death metal in recent years with the new Maggot Crown LP. Although ‘Apparition of Faces’ embodies the many chasmic horrors of Out of the Mouth Graves and the disjointed illogicalisms of Acausal Intrusion, this is the closest to the completeness of death metal as far as musical form and solidity is concerned. Behaving like a partially melted Gorguts, this is tinny, angular, percussive death metal whereby the riffs are defined as much by atonal rhythmic interplay as much as any melodic or harmonic content.

The production is a swamp of murky guitars, tonally metallic drums, and distant, reverb drenched lead guitars adding depth and weight. Maggot Crown exhibit an immediacy and claustrophobia akin to much technical death metal, but their delivery is a little less dense than is common for the style. The guitars aide in this endeavour by deploying more open strumming, allowing the mix to clutter with ancillary inertia in spite of the density of the riffs themselves. Drums anchor this miasma with Moran’s trademark rehearsal room aesthetic, grounding the rhythm section with an intimacy juxtaposing itself against the alienating esotericism of the music itself. Justin Justin Vølus offers much the same guttural burp as he does on Moran’s other projects, here exhibiting enough rhythmic solidity to keep up with the stricter formalities of solidified death metal.

The music is a hybrid concoction of surprisingly traditional death metal, one that reaches right back to the punk ridden roots of the genre, through to the progressive turn in the early 1990s, to the borderline avant-garde fringe that had a brief airing at the turn of the century. Maggot Crown offer a whistlestop tour of this history, but through it all runs a common thread of…well, chopping up the narrative thread. This takes death metal back to its extra musical principles. Beyond the chatter of genre, influence, history, and lineage, ‘Apparition of Faces’ is chiefly a work that seeks to explode the notion that death metal was ever a genre interested in linear progression.

These songs are hacked up husks of incoherence, a mulch of surface level chaos as horrific as they are illogical. But crucially, Maggot Crown have taken the next step in seeking to provide some governance here. It exists at the point where death metal is at its most confident. At the precise moment where sonic decay has set in to such an extent that music is apparently on the point of melting into air, but always pulling it back from this moment via tightly controlled meta structures that keep the apparently random intent of the riffing and rhythmic tangents in some kind of order. A logic crafted anew, defying the expectations of ears more used to conventional musical development.

Tombstone: To the Existence of Light
Out 1st March on Gutter Prince Cabal

The second album from Indonesia’s Tombstone bolts out of the gate with all the enthusiasm of youth. Explicitly citing the Swedish school of blackened death metal in Dawn and Vinterland as influences, sometimes a fresh pair of eyes can bring an archaic style back from the dead. This brand of hyper fast, hyper melodic riff-based black metal is that rarity for an extreme metal subgenre in that boasts more hits than misses. I believe this is down to two things. One, the technical bar is pretty high. It’s not the most complex or dense form of metal, but the requirement for tight playing, the high tempos, and the flowing, linear melodic content requires a degree of single minded discipline that excludes many from entry.

Secondly, beyond the brute facts of technical competence, the aesthetic of this style is very narrow, but within this small creative space, musicians are required to focus on content over the form, the latter of which almost writes itself. This means that to even craft an entry level piece of music in this style requires a degree of compositional discipline, a self-editing process that slices away all the loose fat and unnecessary surface level flourishes, cutting to the quick of raw, cold, energy at the core of this style.

This why – specificity aside – this style’s quality ratio is so high. But it is also why there is often very little to say about new releases beyond what has already been said about the foundational works of this genre. Tombstone’s latest offering ‘To the Existence of Light’ is no exception here. Operating on the flowing, tremolo riffing side of the coin as per the aforementioned Dawn and Vinterland, as opposed to the tight riff geometry of Sacramentum or Dissection, Tombstone offer a fluid, intuitive work of dark and epic melodicism that is not without its variety. Breaks in momentum, such as on the track ‘Into the Woods’, offer some welcome staccato punches and slacking of the tempo without taking us out of the moment. They enhance rather than dissect the bracing sonic air conditioning offered by the bulk of ‘To the Existence of Light’.

Ultimately this is an immersive work of cinematic melodic black metal that is explicitly traditional yet no less creative for the fact. It is rich with musical content, impressive musicianship, and the requisite compositional discipline to bring this genre to bear at its strongest. Due to the skills both technical and creative required to make this style shine we see fewer releases in this vein than many other extreme metal subgenres. But when an artist as expert as Tombstone comes along with an album like ‘To the Existence of Light’, very little is required in the way of curation to make a case for the quality of the work set against anything else released this month.

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