In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
Do you feel it yet? The slow, agonizing crush of new music? It’s not even the end of February and it feels like we’re being bombarded with releases left and right. I made a personal resolution this year to dig a little deeper and check out more bands I’m not familiar with, and while the beginning of the year is a bit of a dumping ground when it comes to movies, for film it’s a perfect opportunity to unearth some gems. Also, like last time, this particular edition of Second Circle has the ill-fitting theme of two bands that begin with “A” so without further ado let’s jump into the insanity of Arkheth and the melancholic death of Apostle of Solitude… ___
Anyone can throw a thousand disparate ideas into a song, but it takes more to congeal those ideas into something that works towards the whole. Arcturus is one example of a band that could make this work, and it seems like Ihsahn can seemingly do this in his sleep and make it not only work, but make it excellent (we’ll find out again when new album Ámr drops in May). Well add to that list Australian black metal entity Arkheth, whose first album in eight years 12 Winter Moons Comes the Witches Brew takes a huge left turn from the straight ahead symphonic black metal of the past and into uncharted water.
While largely a one-man project, Tyrone “Tyraenos” Kostitch employs for the new tracks saxophonist Glen Wholohan, who brings a multitude of facets to the music. This is much more than “black metal with a sax solo” music; there’s an anarchic quality as songs like “Trismegistus” and “Dark Energy Equilibrium” move from nasty to mournful to playful. The cover artwork by T Bare McClough is pretty indicative of the often chaotic nature of the music, but all of this is tied together in a consistently exciting and dark package. After weeks of absorbing the record there are still surprises to be found, whether it’s the vocal call and response in the off-kilter “Where Nameless Ghouls Weep” or the soulful sax solo buried in the fuzzed out outro of “The Fool Who Persists in His Folly.” This is a rich offering for black metal and something to be teased apart with multiple listenings. Don’t let it pass you by.
There’s no beating around the bush here: with From Gold to Ash Indiana’s Apostle of Solitude have crafted a towering monster of melodic doom and crushing traditional metal in the spirit of bands like Solitude Aeturnus and Pallbearer. Birthed by former Gates of Slumber drummer Chuck Brown (now on guitars and vocals) Apostle of Solitude emphasizes clean, mournful vocals and a Sabbath-influence dirge drenched in solos and plaintive cries. In other words, it’s music that shoots straight for all my weak points, and though it’s a style peddled by many a merchant in the metal world, Brown’s great vocal delivery and strong, classic songwriting keep From Gold to Ash from getting lost in the shuffle.
That being said, you’d be forgiving for thinking I’m off my rocker after hearing the thunder of opening instrumental “Overlord” which gallops and fuzzes its way into early Baroness territory in the best possible way. But it’s a brief fury before settling into the sorrow of “Ruination Be Thy Name.” In the four years since previous album Of Woe and Wounds Brown’s voice has aged like the sweetest of bourbons, allowing his delivery to carry more pain and complement the more spacious take of the new record. If there’s a complaint to be had, it might that that compared to earlier album they’ve slowed the pace down a bit too much, as with the exception of “Overlord” the whole of the records maintains a slower, melodic doom pace. But when you have something as tuneful and heartbreaking as “My Heart Is Leaving Here” it’s really hard to nitpick the decision to embrace a more somber tone. It’s a massive highlight on a very strong record, and something I’ll be using to keep warm and sane through 2018.
Whether it’s striking new ground or building upon a tried and true path, metal is continuing to prove fertile, even in the early throwaway months of the year. Until next time, keep it heavy and pure and let us know what’s been working for you in so far this year.