Beats and yelling from: Mural Crown, At the Altar of the Horned God, Deiphage

Mural Crown: Coastal Towers
Out 3rd March on Xenoglossy Productions

Mural Crown’s debut album ‘Coastal Towers’ offers such a peripheral, half real experience that one could be forgiven for allowing it totally pass by. It comes to us as a distorted transmission from “somewhere else”, another time maybe, covered in radio static and the ravages of age, offering scant clues and half formed nuggets of content from which we must piece together a more complete picture, in part consisting of pure imagination on the part of the listener. No two experiences of this album will be entirely the same. One must almost achieve a trancelike state, sequestering our mentality off from exterior distraction in order to absorb the intent behind this work, noise cancelling headphones a requirement.

In an era when metal albums are rife with a surplus of activity, content, length, and volume, this quiet, subtle, barely formed album makes for a refreshing break from the norm. This is not your typical lo-fi black metal cloaked in static, noise, and reverb drenched guitars. This is rather the next stage of this evolution, with these aspects of self-limiting production acting as the entire point rather than a simple enhancement of pre-existing music.

Galloping black metal riffs supplemented by staccato punk punches and rich melodic refrains blur into a homogenous wall of ambient noise. The riffs are certainly there, with concentration bringing greater clarity as to their shape, for those willing to fully engage. But these more pedestrian musical concerns seem to bleed into one, constant flow of ambience as the album progresses, with the riffs, rather than forming the building blocks of the music itself instead deployed to signal moments of intensity, conflict, volume, or transition.

They feed into the static machine that sits front and centre on this album, cloaking all in a fog of confusion begging for revelation. We sense a mundane musical experience somewhere beyond the veil, but our perception is cordoned off, restricted to naught but hints brought to us via these mysterious transmissions. Guttural death growls and high end black metal histrionics further flesh out the layers of ambient static, drenched in reverb and stripped of any rhythmic content that existed at the origin point of these noises.

‘Coastal Towers’ is inspired by the “16th century coastal towers of Further Abruzzo, which were built near river outlets by the Kingdom of Naples and used as guard posts to spot and signal the presence of incoming privateer ships”. The peripheral existence this invokes, much like the lighthouse keeper or oilrig workers, is fitting conceptual material for music that barely exists as music in this reality. This is a communication from the border lands that civilisation forgot.

And this, fundamentally, is what makes this album so compelling. We can tell real musicians got together and wrote these pieces on guitars and drums, with amplification and effects pedals. Indeed, if it was recorded with a more industry standard mix it would be an interesting slab of DIY black metal and nothing more. But here the logic of lo-fi production has been taken to its extreme, whereby it has now changed the genre and artistic impact of the music itself. It has warped it to the point where we can barely discern the mechanics of its origin, like a lost vessel desperately scouring the radio waves for a sign of life. We insert out brains into the experience of ambient static, looking for clues as to the source material, finding only tantalising hints of the music that once was, before it took the long journey through non-physical space to reach our speakers. A transmission from beyond the boundaries of noise.

At the Altar of the Horned God: Heart of Silence
Out 3rd March on I, Voidhanger Records

Fundamentally, this is a ritual ambient experience crafted through the lens of black metal. But branching off this motorway is a whole plethora of adjacent flavours deployed to expand the range of colourful emotions and moods displayed across this album. Neofolk, post punk, martial industrial, all get a hearing, and all blend seamlessly into the stylistic palette, elevating the expressive contours into a fully realised vision.

These looser, informal influences make for a less structured listen than a straightforward metal album. But structure, whilst pronounced, is not the key goal here. This is finely crafted mood music, deployed to set the listener in a certain headspace. Simple, pounding rhythms, repetitive chants, percussive armoury beyond the standard rock drumkit, riffs that pivot around gradualist cycles over overt developments, all are creative decisions that speak of a desire to the throw the listener into “experience” in the abstract as opposed to taking them on a clearly mapped journey.

‘Heart of Silence’ boasts a rich and cinematic production. The metallic elements all present as crisp and polished, with a panorama of guitars filling out the mix with rich textures. They will often take a back seat, allowing clean vocals and other non-metal instrumentation to occupy a lead capacity, satisfied with their role in swelling the mix with power and imposition. Drums are a deep, low-end thud of rhythmic force, offering direct, linear, driving beats that carry the music forward with an unstoppable momentum. They find the right balance between bolstering the music with a sense of power without detracting from the mystical aspirations of the wider scenery.

Vocals lurch from mid-range black metal rasping to gravelly, clean vocals lifted from neofolk and goth, expanding the melodic range, offering a narrative progression where the music tends to cycle around the same clutch of refrains. Synths, ancillary percussion, and a whole host of keyboard instrumentation from strings to harpsichords populate the mix with immersive spiritualism.

A profound and dramatic sense of ritual that eschews the notion of metallic formalism, in favour of a succession of complimentary but disconnected experiences of varying intensity and mood colourings. Complexity abounds despite the informalities, the musicianship is tight, the arrangement considered, the execution faultless. A tasteful sense of theatre brings all these elements to bear into a multifaceted and endlessly engaging experience.

Deiphage: Nuclear Cavalry
Out 3rd March, self released

Fat, juicy war metal is what you can expect of the debut EP from California’s Deiphage. But unfocused rabble this is not, with the music orientating itself toward the tight rigours of blackened thrash and formalist death metal, giving governance and order to the chaos beyond the mulch of static. The music is still undoubtably visceral, at times appearing near incapable of holdings its form amid the animalistic barrages of noise. But solidity is retained, thanks to a rigid adherence to riff organisation and a tight rhythm section.

Production wise, this is massive. An artillery battery of bass heavy drums fleshes out the mix with thundering bulk, keeping just enough percussive bight to hold these tracks together. Guitars are equally weighty, exhibiting a low-end tone more fitting of modern death metal with all its chasmic preoccupations. But here, the open spaces usually evoked by this guitar tone are repurposed as tools of violence and destruction, working through atonal assaults of dark thrash riffs. A sharp bass tone cuts through all this activity, binding the music together with a degree of rhythmic and cadential context. Guttural vocals sink the mix further into the abyss, but they retain a degree of humanist aggression that grounds the music with a sense of realism, one of war metal’s many calling cards when set against pure black metal.

This brief but promising EP binds together the exhilaration of war metal, but manages to inject some much needed musical content into the blender, borrowed from the look and feel of blackened thrash. But what really populates this scenery with engaging musical nutrition is the drab death metal influence, granting the music variety, intellect, intent, all of which offsets the brute bestiality at the philosophical core of ‘Nuclear Cavalry’.

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