Beats and yelling from: Yaaroth, Verminous Serpent, Svraoz

Yaaroth: The Man in the Wood
Out 3rd March on I, Voidhanger

‘The Man in the Wood’ is a singular work of progressive doom metal. It cross pollinates Black Sabbath with the eccentric folk narratives of early Genesis. The intricate interweaving acoustic guitar and woodwind melodies bring together fragile neoclassical and English folk influences, accentuating the other side of the coin to jazz within the English progressive rock movement. These are blended into a wonderfully quirky juxtaposition with the weight of early doom influences, and no small amount of Candlemass-esque melodic flare to supplement the picture.

But such a dense brew of influences and intent is kept within humble confines by an undeniably raw mix. The drums and guitars themselves are barely a notch above demo quality, clear and transparent, but left entirely free from any hint of aesthetic flare. But far from being a detriment, in an age where even the most underground releases are furnished with a mechanistic precision under the total control of the creator, the lack of ironclad curation or any obvious stylistic intent behind the production of ‘The Man in the Wood’ is a breath of fresh air. It also grounds the music with a sense of organic realism that somehow transcends the theme of otherworldly fantasy lurking across this album.

The melodic doom backbone is supplemented by some genuinely Progressive (with a capital P) moments, articulated not just via the use of ancillary folk instrumentation but by dense, choppy basslines and off kilter chord shapes. The move to incorporate familiar classic heavy metal elements into early English prog is also refreshing. This is a far cry from the Disneyfied prog metal of a post Dream Theater landscape. Indeed, metal ears may find the concoction of English “weird” with elements of Candlemass and Cirith Ungol a little hard to swallow. Especially when it comes to the vocals, which call to mind the creepy whimsy of Egg’s Mont Campbell. It’s a marvel that this is a product of Rochester NY and not the Canterbury scene of the early 70s.

Indeed, to further the Egg comparison, although much of the rhythmic core and beat emphasis across ‘The Man in the Wood’ is clearly of a traditional doom metal orientation, there are extended passages where Yaaroth veer completely away from the certainty of metal rhythms and into the thrilling ambiguity of swing. Many of the tracks borrow from Egg’s loungeroom jazz reinterpretation of Stravinsky, an abrasive yet addictive blending of occultist violence retold via the heady prose of sophisticated metropolitan musical mores.

The cultural landscape of ‘The Man in the Wood’ is stuffed with many such explicitly unmetallic influences. These are deployed not simply for flavour, but are foundational breezeblocks propping up these bizarre folk poems. Yaaroth have crafted a work both oddly hypnotic and horrifically uncanny. The music stretches itself between the pageantry of paganism, the sophistication of Soho jazz bars, and the bombast of classic heavy metal, with each jarring thematic clash articulated concurrently. Nowhere is this best illustrated than on the final track ‘Cassap’, which blends a soft jazzy vocal lamentation with staccato dissonance borrowed from King Crimson, and Bill Bruford-esque rhythmic complexity that manages to retain a clear driving momentum whilst attempting to wrest the music from the domesticated tyranny of back-beats.

With such a bold concoction of traditions sitting alongside one another, it is also perhaps noteworthy that the artistic outcome manages to present as fragile, wafer thin, on the cusp of breaking down entirely given a strong breeze. A truly idiosyncratic and lamentably rare experiment in genuinely Progressive metal. If this album makes contact with the wrong audience it may not survive in the wild, one can only hope a large enough segment of the “right” listeners are waiting in the wings, ready to receive this work as intended.

Verminous Serpent: The Malign Covenant
Out 16th March on Amor Fati Productions

This trio brings together members of Irish black metal staples Malthusian and Primordial, veering more toward the style of the former than the latter. No pathos driven Celtic rock can be found within the folds of ‘The Malign Covenant’, just hard hitting chasmic black metal evincing a refreshing attitude of restraint toward dissonance, using it as a flavour rather than a central compositional philosophy.

The album itself is pleasing if a little unremarkable. We could perhaps best position this as a mellow and organic version of Svartidauði. The swirling miasma of loose riffing, soaring, ethereal guitar leads, and oppressive darkness are all present, but for long stretches Verminous Serpent appear to be operating on ambient, in no rush to drive these tracks forward beyond their opening ideas by offering compelling development sections. This in itself is not a damning indictment. But it brings the overall impact of the album more in line with DSBM than the meaty aesthetic would have us believe.

The tracks are minimalist despite their length, relying on the inertia of the guitar tone to populate the mix with activity. Drab, austere riffs circle between tepid black metal and funeral doom, occasionally offering supplementary layers of rich harmonic material. But fundamentally this is music driven by mood over content. Drums offer a very rockist approach via basic back-beats, scattered tribalist fills, and heavy transitional patterns. But again, their organic and somewhat understated presentation is perhaps a sheen deployed to conceal a decidedly on par performance. Nemtheanga’s vocals steer well clear of the Primordial calling card of epic heavy metal crooning, instead going for a direct black metal approach. For such an iconic vocalist it’s perhaps more remarkable that it could literally be anyone behind the mic here.

This album gets a lukewarm pass for its ability to string a succession of riffs together as a solid foundation for engaging melodic material, and its pleasingly humble mien that stands in defiance of many aesthetically comparable releases in recent years. That being said it leaves a large void ready to be filled with content, motion, dynamics, some variant on compositional frameworks driven by forward motion as opposed to stuttering stasis we encounter here. Passable, but one would have expected more from pedigree of this calibre.

Svraoz: Sacraments of Evil
Out 21st February on Bunsen Burner Recordings

Messy Indonesian blackened thrash retains the bombastic chaos that marked the subgenre out in its proto form in the mid-1980s on this debut EP from Svraoz. ‘Sacraments of Evil’ reaches back to the early days of The Exploited and Discharge as a bedrock for this cataclysmically evil punk orientated sound. Metallic elements supervene on this atonality by way of melodic licks, screeching guitar leads, and more ambitious song structures than their punk forbears. Indeed, one way to approach this EP is as a window into time and the process of evolution itself, as we witness hardcore punk evolve into early Bathory and beyond.

Every aspect of the delivery mechanism seems tailored towards bolstering a sense of authenticity, a pride and revelry in this style takes this beyond mere adulation for the past and into a direct expression of artistic intent. The playing is sloppy but ambitious. The production is raw but intentional. The delivery is melodramatic yet utterly free of irony.

The mix is deliciously murky and obscure, lending the overall package a gripping sense of threat, an emanation genuinely not of this world. Drums, although present, are aggressively suppressed in the mix, with only crash cymbals and the occasional fill being discernible for lengthy passages. Guitars offer a reverb drenched barrage of chugging, old school thrash and punk riffs, supplemented by barbaric lead passages, either via atonal wails of aggression or fleshed out structuralist solos. Ghoulish distorted vocals populate the background, a presence more than a lead instrument, adding cinematic flare and much needed solidity.

Given the rampant sloppiness of the package, it’s a wonder ‘Sacraments of Evil’ manages to retain the cohesion required to communicate the tight rigours of blackened thrash. But form is maintained, with Svraoz keeping it together just enough to articulate an aggressive bight of occultist extreme metal, whilst allowing ample room for the utter mess of darkness that surrounds the central threads of these pieces. A wonderfully spontaneous, loose, creative approach to a genre that at times veers into bland homogeneity at times. Svraoz retain the theatre, the virtuosity, and the street level immediacy of the genre, bound together in a delivery mechanism compelling in its sincerity.

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