Beats and yelling from: Smoulder, Concilium, HEXAKOSIOIHEXEKONTAHEXAPHILIA

Smoulder: Violent Creed of Vengeance
Out 21st April on Cruz del Sur Music

Canadian heavy metal darlings Smoulder return with album number two, ‘Violent Creed of Vengeance’. It sees the furtherance of their strident blend of epic doom, NWOBHM, and old school power metal with perhaps a rawer presentation. The production has certainly tightened up, with the earthy throb of the drums kept in check, the guitar tone being sharper, and Sarah Ann’s vocals brought to the fore somewhat.

At this point I’m gonna add a bit of spice to the commentary. Despite being the direct ancestor of metal in its original incarnation, the cluster of subgenres broadly referred to as “heavy metal” is something of an outlier in the metal community these days. Sure, there are obvious crossovers here and there, but for the most part, heavy metal is almost totally distinct from the rest of the metal community, similar to stoner doom or the “proto” metal revival.

For all the twists and turns the music has taken since the 1990s – largely in the arena of infrastructure and format rather than distinct musical developments – a peaceful coexistence now reigns in the metal community at large. But areas of tension remain. This is all a rather laboured way of saying that the homogeneous blob that is extreme metal does not make for the easiest going of neighbours. Heavy metal has had to contend with accusations of being a throwback, a novelty, a semi-joke, or downright obnoxious when compared to its offspring, who even at their most vulgar are generally considered to be artier.

With all that in mind, it’s perhaps noteworthy that of all the parallel retro revivals that have taken place in underground metal of the last fifteen years or so, heavy metal’s has been the most dignified and understated. Albums like ‘Violent Creed of Vengeance’ attest to this. There is no novelty here, no hint of the pandering one gets from pizza thrash or vampiric black metal. Despite wearing their influences on their sleeves and any originality a distant memory, Smoulder come off sounding remarkably contemporary, without pretension or plea for authenticity credentials.

Chunky, mid-paced power chord driven riffs are offset by characterful melodic hooks and creative yet intuitive drum work. But Smoulder also reach for up-tempo numbers, as on ‘The Talisman and the Blade’. Rich lead guitar work serves to populate transitions and bring heightened tension and drama, leaving solos surprisingly restrained for a work of “non”-extreme metal that traditionally favours virtuosity. That’s not to say the chops are lacking, but they serve as brief moments of commentary, a way to colour a bridge or a few bars of transition more than being a centrepiece of epic showmanship.

Ann’s vocals remain strong, matching the theatre of the moment. The noticeably Canadian accent combined with the phrasing and emphasis sometimes lends it an air of Broadway that is not to my taste, but the strained bombast of musical theatre makes for a fitting parallel to the relentless melodrama of epic heavy metal.

Smoulder have a considerable following by this point, thanks in no small part to Ann’s status as a respected music journalist (regardless of your view on Banger TV, her own taste is by all accounts impeccable), and with ‘Violent Creed of Vengeance’ they deliver exactly what fans of Smoulder and heavy metal in general are craving. But it should be noted that this is not an album crafted to rock the boat. This is more a reaffirmation of shared love than it is a bold new statement for the genre. Smoulder take few risks, sticking with what they know, but executing it with such ease that only the most bitter of cynics would write it off.

Concilium: Sky Bvrial
Out 5th May on Sentient Ruin

A disorientating swirl of glum, throbbing black metal melts across the speakers on the latest album from Portugal’s Concilium. ‘Sky Bvrial’ marries the at times one dimensional theatre of caverncore with the primal malevolence of blackened grind, giving rise to atomised compositional chunks and supervenient atmospheres that are more than the sum of their parts. It’s a superficially intense work, containing more intellectual content than a Teitanblood, yet fewer eccentricities than a Demoncy or Beherit.

Blackened grind is often mistakenly understood to have a low bar of entry. It being explicitly primal, contemporary acts (such as Teitanblood) certainly make a show of delivering an assertive artistic statement, but so often it misses the mark for failing to underpin this with any semblance of intent. Cheap to those that can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t, one must learn the rules before one is at liberty to break them in this looser, freeform field.

In this context, Concilium look like a pleasing restatement of this most obscure of subgenres. They offer a welcome breadth of traditional musical content for the shyer contemporary ear, but they flesh out the conceptual and thematic space across this album with character and intent. It may lack the absurdist nihilism of the older entries in this style, but what it is missing in eccentricity is more than made for in theatre.

A dirge ridden distorted guitar tone works through mid-paced tremolo riffs set to ponderous blast-beats, making up the bulk of these pieces. But death metal undertones can be heard in the character of many of the riffs, and a far more pronounced doom influence breaks up the faster passages with an impending sense of dread. Siren like lead guitars emerge gradually from the mix, sometimes foregrounded, sometimes set far in the distance, not unlike Desecresy or even Ireland’s Beithioch in that they feel as if they could have been composed for solo violin.

But such airs and graces are kept in check by the undeniable filth of the mix itself. Consistent, linear drums serve to maintain an urgent momentum throughout, but remain supressed in the mix, taking a background role for the sake of emphasising the dense textural interplay at the heart of the mix. Equally vocals are an expressive but distant hum of background static, adding the suggestion of drama and human intent, but never wresting the listener’s attention from the tension between the abrasive, primal rhythm guitar and the sophisticated aspirations of the lead material.

Aesthetically, ‘Sky Bvrial’ may look familiar to any close observers of caverncore or blackened grind. But it offers a highly distinct compositional character, one that expresses itself as a series of violent lamentations. Surrealist aggression is replaced by understated mourning, but this latter package is still supplemented by a healthy degree of unchecked violence, binding the music together with a profound primitivism.

Out 4th May on Caligari Records

Someone had to type out the name of this artist, I just copied and pasted the thing.

Preposterous handles aside, this brief demo offers some glimmers of a rather interesting take on murky, raw black metal partway between grind, rock ‘n’ roll swing, post punk, and blackened thrash. If that sounds a little hard to swallow, don’t worry, it is. Given this serendipitous mix of genre colourings, it’s hardly surprising that ‘Demo DCLXVI’ is a little unfocused, delivering a series of unfinished ideas and suggestions rather than a complete or cohesive work.

Frantic, punk ridden guitars make up the bulk of the picture here. They bounce excitedly from playful black metal to basic power chord punches, yet, despite the occasional catchy hook, their chief purpose is to fill out the mix with body. Although lead guitar work hearkening all the way back to late 80s Bathory and some imaginative clean interludes bring welcome depth to these otherwise basic pieces.

This leaves the vocals to steal the show. Although some traditional black metal crooning does make an appearance, the majority of the vocals are sung clean, veering from formalist ritualism, to emotive post punk, and some choral stylings creeping in at the corners. The result is far from overbearing however, they are positioned low enough in the mix so as not to overwhelm the listener, and the gravelly texture allows them to integrate surprisingly well into the abrasive distortion of the guitars.

This makes for a quirky if incomplete experience. Given that this is a short two track demo it offers far more than it disappoints. A clear stylistic character has been established, and curiosity is peeked in anticipation of how the infrastructure of this eccentric package of primers will develop. 

9 thoughts on “Beats and yelling from: Smoulder, Concilium, HEXAKOSIOIHEXEKONTAHEXAPHILIA

Add yours

  1. Smoulder…….

    I am an ex-fan…..and here is why:

    1. Less than mediocre music after multiple listens.

    2. There entire “gimmick” is being “left wing” or whatever (and I gladly fell for it). Well, they feature a member who played live with a band that released music while signed to Darken than Black records. There may also be a connection with the band Xenophobia from Illinois. A quick metallum search will corroborate….Didn’t they do some sort of fundraiser for Rich Walker too?

    No thanks, I’ll avoid (a politically self-righteous) Smoulder and throw on Atlantean Kodex instead…or maybe some Akashah?


    1. Thanks for reading as always Patrick. If you’ve genuinely decided Smoulder is subpar Atlantean Kodex then fair enough, Atlantean Kodex are great. But it’s a shame that you can’t look past your politics and enjoy music on its own terms, typical of right wingers afraid of having their world view challenged though I guess. Best of luck on your travels though.


    1. I understand that you have a problem with hypocrisy and political grandstanding if it’s not borne out by the actions of band members.
      I see this a lot with metalheads that treat metal as a consumer product, they think bands owe them something beyond the music they put out, it’s all about the product and personalities behind it cos their love of metal is driven by self expression rather than a sober assessment of the music’s quality on its own terms.
      Surprised to see this from a student of daddy Prozak though, I hope he can recommend you some b-tier Dutch black metal and active nihilism to console you.


      1. Well, my initial comment did say that I find the music less than mediocre. What compounds my dislike for the band is the hypocrisy I see. Now, I don’t think any band owes me anything. If Smoulder were an excellent band that were hypocrites in their politics, I would be able to push past the politics and enjoy the music. I think the fact that they play up their political identify as a band to such a high degree means that we as fans are meant to take their politics as an essential part of the identity of the band itself. No?


      2. You do you Patrick. I rarely encounter political grandstanding from the members of Smoulder on social media, and even if it were rife it wouldn’t bother me as I enjoy engaging with the political minutiae of music scenes, but generally don’t treat musicians as thought leaders in this regard, I make up my own mind about their music, ideally divorced from personality.
        Probably not worth dying on the Smoulder hill for this discussion, but it’s at least encouraging to see you display some coherence .


  2. A fair conclusion to this discussion my good man.
    You know, I am starting to warm up to you Mr. Hate…..
    You are still a false….but you’re my false at least…

    Liked by 1 person

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