Nine Circles ov…Consuming Metal in Isolation

quarantine

Being into metal can be isolating enough…I remember as a kid in in high school (this would be circa 1990?) having to do a social studies project where kids would sing songs with social or political relevance.  I can’t tell you how many kids did Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.”

Me?  I did Testament’s “Greenhouse Effect.”  Being isolated wasn’t a problem after that.

This, of course, is something different.

Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe.  I hope you’re healthy, and that doesn’t just mean you’re doing your part to limit the spread of COVID-19.  I hope you’re finding some solace and comfort in whatever brings you joy.  and if you’re reading this, one of those things is probably metal.  Which admittedly for me over the last few weeks hasn’t been the priority it used to.  But something so deeply ingrained in my DNA can’t be suppressed for long, and I found myself sitting back with a few recent releases that helped soothe the anxiety and fear, or at the very least provided an outlet to rage and let it go by force.  So this edition of Nine Circles ov... lists some of those balms. I hope it helps you find some of your own.

As always, let’s do this:

Sweven - The Eternal Resonance

Out of the embers of the beautifully intricate lines of Morbus Chron comes Sweven, the long gestating brainchild of Robert Andersson.  There’s even more layers of cosmic space in debut album The Eternal Resonance, with straight prog taking the wheel on opening instrumental “The Spark” and finding its way into every corner of the album.  Touchstones abound with some very strong Fates Warning circa Perfect Symmetry vibes clashing with late era Rush and more overt modern metal elements, all of which can be found on the massive “By Virtue Of A Promise,” all but guaranteeing this will end up high on my 2020 EOY list.

aktor - placebo

If Chris Black has his name on something, chances are I’m going to grab it.  The man can slip seamlessly into a myriad of styles, but nowhere does he exhibit the fun and high sheen of the 80s as he does in Aktor.  New album Placebo charts a different course than almost any other retro/traditional metal band by hitting a wonderfully quirky AOR hybrid and hitting you with choruses so sharp you won’t feel them slice into your brain? Need proof?  Check out the oohs on “Washed Away” and the rippling keyboards that accompany the wicked “Save You From Me.”  All this time waiting for more Dawnbringer and it was Aktor I really needed…

gargantuas - toward the sun

The first thing I think of when I hear “Transcending,” the opening track of Toward The Sun is why have I never heard of Garganjua before? Sitting in the crossroads of progressive sludge, doom, and post metal there are some overt connection to what bands like The Ocean and Cult Of Luna are doing, but the strongest thread to me is Baroness, particularly on their early work.  There’s something about how Garganjua works through a musical idea, letting it simmer and stew and slowly evolve from one riff to the next.  And then comes the achingly beautiful clean vocals crashing against the pained roars.  Toward the Sun has been the album I’ve come back to the most this year, and I continue to find new subtitles in its grooves.

big scenic nowhere - vision beyond horizon

If there’s a recurring theme to what I’ve been drawn to this year, it’s larger, slower, more rock-oriented sounds.  Big Scenic Nowhere made my 2019 list with their contribution to the PostWax vinyl series, and their full length debut Vision Beyond Horizon brings more of the same desert stoner psychedelic rock I enjoy playing at maximum volume.  It’s not all laid back spliff riffs, though – just take a listen to the frantic punk roar of “The Paranoid” to see what the band can do when the trip goes bad and they channel some Bad Brains.  The fuzz goes deep on this album, and it’s a joy from beginning to smoked out end.

constellation - the language of limbs

Wildernessking may be no more, but from those ruins rose Constellatia, and their debut The Language of Limbs carries forth the same progressive post/black metal the band was previously known for.  Despite the flurry of blast beats and screams, there’s a tentative, almost delicate way songs like “Empyream” moves through their forms, as if the riffs hang on gossamer.  Closing track “The Garden” features some gorgeous female-driven vocals around a cavernous percussion that brings you deep into the music in a way Wildernessking never did for me.  This is another album to sit and digest over a long period of time, finding new facets with every listen.

ironflame - blood red victory

On the traditional metal front there’s a lot of much-deserved praise for the latest from Haunt (I still can’t get the chorus to “Mind Freeze” out of my head) but my heart has been with Ironflame and their third album Blood Red Victory.  I’ve covered every Ironflame release by Andrew D’Cagna, who also doubles as the mastermind behind black metal band Nechochwen for this site, and album #3 sees the floodgates blown open for battle-hardened metal that charges forward with sword held high.  “Gates of Evermore” races by at a furious clip, and is indicative for the rest of the album, meaning you need to be fully prepared to have your face blasted by searing guitars spitting copious solos, and some raging anthemic choruses to shine a light on the war ahead.  Good, good stuff.

today is the day - no good to anyone

I am completely haunted by No Good To Anyone, the latest from Steve Austin and Today Is The Day.  A band constantly on my radar, but strangely un-listened to until I put this album on.  This is the sound of pain, of doubt and depression and rage that these things are embedded so deep.  At least that’s how I hear the anguish of the vocals and the nauseating keys that adorn tracks like “Son of Man” and the harrowing grunge of “You’re All Gonna Die.”  I haven’t begun to dig further back in the band’s discography because I am so held captive by the sounds coming out of No Good To Anyone.  Additional bonus points given to the cover, which perfectly captures how the current state of the world pierces every part of me.

sepultura - quadra

Is there still an argument over the Cavalera-era vs. the Green-era of Sepultura?  I’ll go to the grave for the trifecta of Beneath the Remains, Arise, and Chaos AD (Roots loses me a bit) but nothing Cavalera has done since leaving the band has equalled what I heard on 2017’s Machine Messiah and now with Quadra.  Green sounds like he can devour the world with that roar, and Andreas Kisser is bringing some of the best riffs he’s crafted in over 20 years.  The syncopated madness of “Means To An End” and the bludgeoning onslaught of “Last Call” not only show a band at the top of its game, but also the insane rhythmic chops of Eloy Casagrande, who drums like he might literally be on fire.  Far from trying to live on past glories, Sepultura are leading the way for how good modern metal can be.

demons & wizards - III

Speaking of how good modern metal can be, the glorious fist in the air anthems of Jon Shaffer and Hansi Kürsch, otherwise known as Demons & Wizards are back with their album, and it is everything I could want from the masters behind Iced Earth and Blind Guardian.  The opening track “Diabolic” was presented to me with the video above, and it’s so metal other metal bands instantly disintegrate in its presence.  I love it unconditionally, and I love everything else on III, from the more measured hard rock of “Invincible” with its ringing arpeggios to the more power-inflected anthems of something like “Dark Side Of her Majesty.”

Times like these, it’s essential to find what comfort you can.  Let me know in the comments what’s been keeping you sane during this thing, stay safe, and I’ll see you on the other side.

In the meantime, as always: keep it heavy.

– Chris


 

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