This week brought a lot of new and awesome albums. Unfortunately, a lot of releases get overlooked for coverage by the release date due to limited resources (or interest). These are a collection of releases that for no fault of their own, did not get picked for coverage on their own. That could be because no one knew what they were, no one cared, they sucked, or we just missed them because we suck. I wanted to take some time and discuss seven of these releases (now its four because a PR rep couldn’t provide me with a working link for music). These releases have nothing to do with each other and would probably never be put together other than they unfortunately happen to share the same release date and they are all getting reviewed by me.
Dark Descent Records is one of those labels that I go out of my way to listen to every one of their releases. That label’s catalogue is always on point with bands like Emptiness, Swallowed, Thantifaxath, Horrendous, Adversarial, and Blood Incantation. Their latest offering is The Hidden Paths to Black Ecstasy by Nox Formulae. Apparently the band is some super exclusive, god-tier Luciferian mystical monks or something. If you listen to the press release, apparently the album is a portal to some illuminating dimension of Atlantean Satan light or something. I don’t know about all that; the only thing that changed when listening to the album was that my puppy woke up and started licking his balls.
Like all the other stuff on the Dark Descent roster, Nox Formulae is worth checking out. These Greek dark mages specialize in a multi-layered (multi-dimensional?) and expressive form of black metal. Some of the tracks drag on a little bit with repetitive mid-tempo grooves and moaning/chanting, but most of the tracks on the record cover lots of ground and transition flawlessly between blackened sub-genres. “The Shadow Smoke” and “Voudon Lwa Legba” are perfect examples of this that manage to do a lot all on a single track and do them well.
While not necessarily blazing any new trails, Nox Formulae manage to stand amongst the stellar Dark Descent family without sounding like the unwanted step-child. Pick up the record and then proceed to pick of the rest of the label’s catalogue.
I, Voidhanger Records is another label that has a bunch of great releases with bands like Spectral Lore, Suspiral, and Mare Cognitum. Not to the same degree as Dark Descent but I do check out most everything from I, Voidhanger and tend to like most of it. Serpent Ascending is back with a brand new album Ananku.
Serpent Ascending is a project born from the mind of Finnish death metal artist Jarno Nurmi who is known for bands like Slugathor and Desecresy. Serpent Ascending is a project that harkens to 80s and early 90s death metal. There have been a lot of bands recently that have returning to this grittier form of death metal from the earlier (less polished/formulaic) days of the genre. Bands like Vastum and Cruciamentum have executed this magnificently and found places on my year end lists the last couple years. Serpent Ascending does not quite reach the heights that other bands have reached in my mind. 2011’s The Enigma Unsettled from Serpent Ascending was more similar to the aforementioned bands in that it was slow and deliberate while evil and atmospheric. The only issue I took with that prior release was the production hurt the overall feel of the record. I don’t know if Jarno wanted to stand apart from the pack and try to do something different for Ananku, but it does follow suit with the old death feel. It is slower and grittier than most death metal you would hear today. It focuses more on creating atmosphere than technicality which does improve the songs.
A lot of the tracks on Ananku just sound hollow and one dimensional. The drumming sounds like it was done by an old drum machine with no expression or freedom to flesh out any of the songs. The drumming stands lifeless and repetitive. A lot of the guitar riffs lack any depth in tone, execution, or songwriting. Occasionally, a good riff or two stands out like in “Male Atavism,” but overall, the guitar and drums seem to be hanging back to allow room for something else to shine. I believe that “something” that Jarno was striving for was in his vocals. The vocals on the record do vary quite a bit from traditional death lows to more raspy higher vocals and sparse traditional thrash style vocals. He also does a choir effect with bass and baritone vocals that drone on with almost no energy, feeling, or intricacy behind them. Whatever vocal style Jarno is performing, he presents with multiple vocal tracks going all at the same time in an attempt to fill the void left by the instrumentation. A lot of the vocals are interesting enough by themselves but are not enough to compensate for the rest of the aural void on these songs.
Overall, Anunku is decent, but it does not live up to the prior Serpent Ascending material or any of the other material that Jarno has been involved with. If I ever had the opportunity to see this band live, I would jump on it as I’m sure that this would level up in the transition to a live setting.
Stream and buy the album from I, Voidhanger Records here.
Next up is Finsterforst. I looked up nothing about this band, but the album is called #YOLO. I’m not one to talk crap on another artists hard work and vision and all that (unless you’re Otep).
BUT this sounds like someone took the most generic possible thrash, black, and death riffs and mixed them with a bunch of my least favorite aspects of some of metal’s subgenres. The result sounds like Dimmu Borgir, Alestorm, and Dog Fashion Disco all thrown together into the most obnoxiously convoluted mess that somehow still manages to be boring as hell.
Also, I have to mention the covers. As with the aforementioned flaming garbage pile of Otep, Finsterforst decided to include some covers of Top 40 songs. Their version of “Wrecking Ball” by Miley Cyrus sounds like a joke from a fake internet band. Think whatever you want about Miley, but “Wrecking Ball” is a fantastic song. Or it was until Finsterforst got ahold of it. The other cover is “Beat It” by Michael Jackson. This song (I shit you not) starts with a dubstep mess that abruptly transitions into an alternating verse chorus crapstorm that switches between sounding like Lordi and 50 year old dads pretending to be Fall Out Boy. OH MY GOSH. I swear I didn’t realize this until now, but ALSO LIKE OTEP, this album is from Napalm Records. The only two bands I’ve ever reviewed poorly are both from the same label. How about that? Anyway, if you like poorly executed incestuous dumpster metal you can listen and buy here.
Philly and Chicago’s Knife Hits are ready to release their debut album Eris after forming in 2011. The band offers late ‘90s and early ‘00s throwback screamo and chaotic hardcore.
I could have seen Deathwish picking up a single release of this band in 2005 as Knife Hits borrow heavily from much of Deathwish’s roster. It sounds like the first high school band of members of Killing the Dream, The Power and the Glory, and Rot in Hell. The best parts of Eris are when Knife Hits play something that sounds like a B-side from any of the other bands mentioned in this review. Songs like “The Veil,” “Abhorrent,” and “New Paradigm” are pretty great bangers, but it is all too familiar. So many of those earlier bands are still active, have recently called it quits, or are currently on reunions; it is hard to have had time to miss the genre enough to allow releases like this to sound better than they are by playing the nostalgia factor. Hell, new bands like Bleak from Syracuse, New York are already doing the chaotic hardcore thing, but they are owning and crushing it by making it their own rather than just having a “remember when we were young(er) and music was like this” moment.
If you are stuck in the very recent past and think that this type of music is the only music out there, then you will probably be stoked to get this record. I’m sure you will be rushing to Tumblr to make GIFs of them swinging guitars with a single line of the lyrics flashing over them. For the rest of us, we’ve been there and done that. There are some decent songs on the record but they slip my mind as soon as I am done listening to them.
– Josh Thieler