Thursday, August 27, 2015

…the Devil descends on you: GOYA – ‘Obelisk’

And the dragon stood on the sand of the seashore. Then I saw a beast coming up out of the sea, having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.

Obelisk, the second full-length from Phoenix three-piece Goya, is a monumental step forward from what was already an impressive beginning. The band’s debut, 777 (review HERE), was a grimy, acid-drenched excursion into the seedy underbelly of heavy music occupied by the likes of Electric Wizard, pre-’93 Monster Magnet, Blood Farmers, and, of course, classic era Black Sabbath. The band followed their debut with the excellent 2014 EP Satan’s Fire (review HERE) and a split with Seattle’s Wounded Giant featuring Goya’s “No Place in the Sky” from the forthcoming Obelisk. Each successive release has found Goya transcending and, in many ways, eclipsing their influences.

Obelisk, like the beast rising from the sea, is a multi-headed blasphemous monster of an album that demonstrates not only Goya’s propensity for crafting evil, unforgettable heavy tunes, but also their ability to manipulate the album’s overall tone with the moody instrumentals “The Star” and “Echo from Space.” Though both are brief, “The Star” and “Echo from Space” add ominous textures to the doom-laden album. The best example of Goya’s growth and their willingness to spread their wings can be heard on the haunting “300 Eyes.” It is a sparse acoustic number that is equal parts melancholia and self-loathing. Jeff Owens gives a nuanced vocal performance that simultaneously conveys sadness and a seething, underlying rage.

Although “The Star,” “Echo from Space,” and “300 Eyes” are all nice distractions, at the end of the day—with Goya—it is all about the riffs and Obelisk is in no short supply. While there is no single weak track to be heard on the entirety of the album nothing quite stands out like the seemingly Richard Ramirez inspired “Beyond Good Evil.” The track is not only among the heaviest of the collection, but it is also imbued with the album’s most infectious chorus—both musically and vocally.

Since the release of 777 every subsequent Goya release has been highly anticipated around these parts and they have yet to disappoint. Obelisk is easily the band’s most varied release to date, but it also stands as their darkest and grimiest. Goya have channeled a black, twisted psychology with their latest both musically and atmospherically. Obelisk, with its heavy, overblown riffs and feedback strewn soundscapes, is top-tier material that easily stands among the year’s best. Highly recommended…



Wednesday, August 12, 2015

…the world ends when you’re dead: FISTER – ‘IV’

Pain or damage don't end the world. Or despair or fucking beatings. The world ends when you're dead. Until then, you got more punishment in store. –Al Swearengen

And St. Louis, Missouri three-piece Fister will be the instrument of your punishment. The prolific sowers of destructive doom seem to sink to new, despicable lows with each successive release and the band’s latest continues the downward descending trend. Rather than molest the listener’s senses with a handful of tunes the masochistic trio have opted to assault the unsuspecting with an aural ear-depredation of no less than 40 minutes of sonic despair (or infinity,as it happens, if one never lifts the needle).

Gemini, the band’s previous effort (review HERE), was a masterpiece of depravity and downtrodden doom. With David Cronenberg’s ‘Dead Ringers’ as their guide Fister managed to unleash a disturbing soundtrack—their deepest, most well-rounded recording to-date—that illuminated the band in a new, if not lurid, light. Gemini, though the band’s grimmest release, was also their lushest with the inclusion of piano, violin, tuba and trombone. IV makes no such pretense as the album, for the most part, is a journey through a no-win void. If hopelessness is a finite well, then Fister manage to pass through the bottom—a seemingly impenetrable obstacle—to unbeknownst depths of futility and woe.

IV is a massive, labyrinthine tune that heaves and writhes like the death-throes of a fallen storm giant. Moments of pure, unadulterated menace and loathing are counterbalanced with moodier moments of sparse instrumentation. Due to the band’s sheer negative will IV stands as one of this year’s ugliest releases to-date. Life dealt you a sour hand? Put on Fister’s IV and let the catharsis cleanse and purify you…



Tuesday, August 11, 2015

…BRUME – ‘Donkey’

On their debut album, Donkey, San Francisco three-piece Brume summon a dense, often impenetrable fog of distortion and rhythmic battery—the only respite from the enveloping miasma being the occasional atmospheric break and the seraphic vocals of bassist Susie McMullen. With Brume it’s all about the riff and each track is a perpetual cascade of hazy and inescapable riffs.

Though the band is following a well-worn path their greatest attribute, other than the larger-than-life guitar tone, is centered on vocalist/bassist McMullen. While the vocals are slightly buried in the mix her voice remains a luminous beam of solace in an otherwise suffocatingly heavy storm and, at times, recall the vocals of shoegaze/noise act Medicine’s Beth Thompson, particularly on “Shadows” and “Win.”
“Help Me,” the album’s third track, is not only the catchiest track of the collection, but it also best showcases McMullen’s vocal talents. While her vocals often reach angelic heights, they also are delivered with an unparalleled force compared to anything else on the album.

Not content to merely craft their own material, Brume pursue an unlikely detour by taking the melancholia folk of Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s “Even if Love” and taking it to its doomed-out conclusion. And it works. “Even if Love” lends itself well to Bume’s brand of downtrodden heaviness and is a welcome addition to the band’s own compositions and features some of the album’s strongest drumming.

Brume have made a powerful debut with Donkey and the trio should appeal to fans of other likeminded bands such as Windhand, Tombstones, and Chrch—acts who practice and have mastered the sludgey wall-of-sound aesthetics of narcotizing doom. Brume effectively and tastefully wield feedback in addition to well-placed wah pedal manipulation adding texture and depth to the tunes. Hopefully Donkey is just the beginning for this three-piece…



Big Cartel

Monday, August 10, 2015

…here lay the tattered King: SABBATH ASSEMBLY – ‘Sabbath Assembly’

Throughout the band’s six year existence Sabbath Assembly have released four albums with an ever-changing group of musical collaborators. Despite the fluid lineup, the band—the brainchild of drummer David Christian (aka Dave Nuss of No-Neck Blues Band)—has remained consistent in its dedication to musically (re)interpreting and consequently spreading the hymns of The Process Church of the Final Judgment. Until now. Though the band’s 2013 album Quaternity marked the emergence of original material (inspired by Processsian ideas) intermingled with Process Church hymns the band’s forthcoming self-titled LP, their fifth overall, establishes Sabbath Assembly’s independence from Process Church ideology. With ties severed, Sabbath Assembly have decidedly turned their collective attentions toward heavier pastures. Long gone, for the most part, are the pastoral, acoustic laden compositions in favor of what can be best described as occult hard rock and heavy metal.

The change in overall sound should not be surprising as Sabbath Assembly have often flirted with heavier moments as attested by “I, Satan” from Quaternity, and, to a lesser extent, “And the Phoenix is Reborn” from their debut, Restored to One. With Sabbath Assembly, the band has almost exclusively foregone the psychedelic flourishes that were in abundance on their Jex Thoth fronted debut, Restored to One, and the gospel inclinations of their entire catalogue in favor of straight-up traditional heavy metal. Sabbath Assembly have certainly carved out a unique niche with their past endeavors so an abrupt change in both songcraft and inspiration can understandably be met with resistance. To Sabbath Assembly’s credit they make the transition quite gracefully and have recorded a solid, occult themed album.

The dusky vocals of Jamie Myers are well-suited for the heavier aspects of Sabbath Assembly and remain, as always, a consistent highlight of the band’s music. She was often able to imbue her voice with both fragility and grace on the hymn-like material of the band’s previous albums. With the heavier compositions Myers often recalls those moments of grace and fragility, but the majority of her vocals are appropriately hardened and more powerful. “Ave Satanas” best represents her range as she effortlessly reaches angelic heights contrasted with moments of gritty vitriol.

Musically, Sabbath Assembly have crafted an album that is both dark and catchy with nods to 70’s and 80’s heavy metal. The recurring lead guitar intros of “Only You” and “The Firey Angel of Desire” recalls the irrefutable heavy metal hooks of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing during Judas Priest’s decades-spanning prime. “Only You” also captures the band at their moodiest as the song ebbs and flows between moments of dreamy calm and up-tempo rock. “The Fiery Angel of Desire” has moments reminiscent of Uli Roth-era Scorpions and is accentuated by some of Myers’ most beguiling vocal melodies.

The closest that Sabbath Assembly comes to the softer, hymn-like atmospheres of previous albums can be found on “Sharp Edge of the Earth” and the closing track, “Shadows of Emptiness.” “Sharp Edge of the Earth,” begins as a somber, folkish number accented with viola. Near the midway point it picks up to a galloping pace and remains one of the most affecting tracks of the album. “Shadows of Emptiness” is by far the most delicate track and works effectively as an album closer. Gentle acoustic guitar is accompanied with viola to support the Myers’ performance which shifts between delicate croons and soulful wails.

With their forthcoming full-length Sabbath Assembly have successfully reinvented themselves. While their previous four albums have loomed under the shadow of The Process Church of the Final Judgment their emergence from beneath that specter has yielded impressive results. The band’s shift in style is not completely unsurprising and their predilection for occult themes is understandable due to their fascination with bringing the hymns of The Process Church into the 21st century. Despite the shift in style Sabbath Assembly is an impressive heavy metal album that is both engaging and full of hooks.




Wednesday, August 5, 2015

…frozen in time: NORTHWINDS – ‘Eternal Winter’

It’s no secret that the French progressive doom band Northwinds is a favorite here at Vertical Chamber Apparatus as the band continually pushes themselves both creatively and compositionally. Despite their two-and-a-half decades of existence and a bulletproof discography the band still dwells in relative obscurity to the world at large. While the group is often and not necessarily unfairly labelled as a “doom metal band” that label is really only a fraction of the story. Northwinds definitely invokes the ancient rites of doom metal—mostly in an organic, proto-doom spirit—but they also voyage extensively into the realms of progressive rock, folk, psychedelia, and 70’s inspired hard rock thus taking the listener on phantasmagorical journeys into uncharted lands. With four outstanding releases already under their collective belts the band is poised to release their fifth full-length, the long-awaited and highly anticipated ‘Eternal Winter.’

The band’s excellent 2012 album, ‘Winter,’ (review HERE) was initially conceived as a double album appropriately titled ‘Winter…Eternal Winter,’ but the idea was shelved by Black Widow Records as a risky venture. ‘Winter’ was a career defining moment for the band as the release seemed to capture them not only at their doomiest, but also at their most mystical. Based on the strength of ‘Winter’ it is exciting to know that most, if not all, of the material of ‘Eternal Winter’ was conceived and composed during the same writing cycles that have produced some of Northwinds’ strongest and darkest material to date.

‘Eternal Winter’ is unquestionably an extension of ‘Winter,’ though the latest doesn’t quite descend into the same dark depths as its predecessor, nor does it establish the consistent magical atmosphere that was threaded throughout the previous album. These points should not be mistaken as criticism, but should be taken as mere observation as Northwinds has yet to disappoint and ‘Eternal Winter’ is no exception from that rule. While the magical atmospherics that were in abundance on ‘Winter’ are in slight decline on the band’s latest they definitely are not absent. The dreamy intro of “Chimeres” gives way to one of the most powerful tracks of the album. “Chimeres,” with its effective use of synths and ghostly sound effects, shares a stylistic and tonal kinship to other standout tracks from the band’s discography like “Black Tower” or “Winds of Sorrow.” Adding to the atmosphere of “Chimeres” is a sinister, phantom-like vocal effect that echoes the vocals of Sylvain Auvé—a subtle, yet effective detail that enriches the track as a whole.

Where ‘Winter,’ for the most part, was steeped in darkness ‘Eternal Winter’ chooses to travel paths more related to progressive influenced hard rock. The flute heavy “Crossroads” has an epic, classic rock vibe that is fueled by majestic guitar solos, organ, and Auvé’s soulful vocals. The uncharacteristic “From the Cradle to the Grave,” one of the shortest non-instrumental songs written by the band, is dominated by a 70’s style strut that seemingly burns out almost as soon as it starts. “A Light for the Blind” may just be the best representation of Northwinds’ sound. It is a sprawling track that is embedded with moments of catchiness—particularly due to the lead guitar—juxtaposed with sonic explorations to other dimensions. It’s a great track that captures Northwinds doing what they do best—crafting intricate, often emotional tunes that never fail to keep the listener engaged.

Northwinds have, impressively, continued their upward trajectory by releasing another stunner in a succession of stellar albums. The band is poised to have an incredible year with the upcoming release of ‘Eternal Winter’ hot on the heels of their killer split 7” with fellow countrymen Marble Chariot (review HERE). In addition, the vinyl release of their 1995 demo courtesy of metalloscope-music has just been released. ‘Eternal Winter,’ like the rest of Northwinds’ discography, is an enchanting album that is comprised of a multitude of layers. Fans of doom metal and progressive rock will undoubtedly discover and hear a lot to admire in the music of Northwinds and ‘Eternal Winter’ is no exception. An engaging listen from start-to-finish. Highly recommended.


Monday, August 3, 2015

…exposed to the Dragon’s Breath: KRÖWNN – ‘Magmafröst’

The intersection of metal and fantasy is far from new, but few bands have embraced it as wholeheartedly and so convincingly as stoner-doom savages Kröwnn. With a void left by the unfortunate dissolution of traditional doom champions The Gates of Slumber the land has been without a king. Enter Kröwnn. The Italian trio, though practicing a groove-laden sonic form of barbarism quite different from TGoS’s Saint Vitus inspired traditional doom, is more than poised to assume the mantle. With an impressive debut already under their belts, the six track foray into the fantastical—‘Hyborean Age’—the band have returned with a vengeance on their sophomore album, ‘Magmafröst.’

While ‘Hyborean Age’ was indeed an excellent debut, ‘Magmafröst’ takes every aspect of that album and heats it in Hephaestus’ forge, re-works it and folds it, then hammers it out upon the anvil of Crom. The end result is that ‘Magmafröst’ rumbles with an intensity that eclipses its predecessor. The basslines are thicker, the riffs are dirtier, and the band, as a whole, locks into an irrefutable aural assault from beginning-to-end, save perhaps the atmospheric pieces, “Bennu” and “Cernunnos,” that bookend the album.

The most potent statement to be found on the album and, consequently, the track that best exemplifies Kröwnn’s modus operandi is undoubtedly “Wyvernking.” At just over the eight minute mark “Wyvernking” is an onslaught of armor piercing feedback, down-tuned grooves, and the bellows and resonate vocals of guitarist/vocalist Michele el Lello Carnielli. “Wyvernking” brings more to the table than just crushing riffs as the track launches into spacier territory due to some excellent wah pedal manipulation and tempo shifts.

Kröwnn have clearly bested themselves with their sophomore release as ‘Magmafröst’ improves on their debut in every conceivable way. The winning combination of the band’s quake-inducing rhythm section and Michele el Lello Carnielli’s catchy riffs and vocal swagger have catapulted Kröwnn to the forefront of the doom metal movement. ‘Magmafröst’ is a stellar follow-up to an excellent debut. Hopefully Kröwnn will continue to further develop and hone their sound for future releases.



Saturday, August 1, 2015

…a triumphant return: BEHOLD! THE MONOLITH – ‘Architects of the Void’

The degree to which tragedy and the will to rebuild cannot be underestimated when listening to Behold! The Monolith’s stellar third full-length release, ‘Architects of the Void.’ The three year gap between albums marks a period of mourning, adjustment, and rebuilding on the parts of guitarist Matt Price and drummer Chase Manhattan. Welcomed into the fold are Sasquatch bassist Jason “Cas” Casanova and vocal acrobat Jordan Nalley, thus rounding out Behold! The Monolith’s ranks in the absence of the band’s fallen comrade and brother, Kevin McDade. It’s no secret that the band’s second album, ‘Defender, Redeemist,’ (review HERE) is a favorite here at Vertical Chamber Apparatus, so it is understandable that ‘Architects of the Void’ would not only have high expectations to live up to, but it would also fall under close scrutiny. Does ‘Architects of the Void’ live up to the legacy established by the band’s first two releases? That question can be answered with a resounding YES.

While ‘Architects of the Void’ is indeed stunning, certain expectations were dashed—understandably so—considering the circumstances and changes to personnel. Many of the highlights of ‘Defender. Redeemist’ and, to a lesser extent, the band’s self-titled, were the charismatic vocals of McDade and the atmospheric nuances that were woven throughout the albums. ‘Architects of the Void’ proves to be a different beast altogether by being fueled by an unparalleled darkness, a darkness that is occasionally conveyed through speed, but ultimately through sheer aggression. The blackened, frenetic aural assault of “The Mithriditist” backed by the chugging riffs of “Lord of Bones” encapsulates the collective mindset of the band and equally represents the descent into darker territories. While the atmospheric touches are not completely absent, as the haunting three minute interlude “Black Days Of…” proves with its unsettling swirl of chaos and inhuman spoken-word vocals, they have been incrementally inhibited in favor of a more forceful approach.

One area where Behold! The Monolith have excelled, ever since their inception, is producing progressive-minded tunes that are labyrinthine in nature and ‘Architects of the Void,’ as a whole, follows suit. The closing title-track best exemplifies this dimension of the band. The fourteen minute closing track is a sprawling masterpiece that not only stands out as an album highlight, but it also stands as some of the strongest, most engaging material that the band has written to-date. Near the five minute mark the track devolves into a crawling mindfuck of noise and sound bites akin to Steel Pole Bath Tub’s acid trip gone awry, “The River.” When the track regains steam and picks up the pace the end result is a glorious blast of unrestrained emotion and unforgettable instrumentation—one of the finest sonic moments to be released this year.

Perhaps the biggest potential wildcard of Behold! The Monolith mark II undoubtedly would revolve around the vocals of Jordan Nalley. While the gruff, charismatic vocals of Kevin McDade are sorely missed there is no denying that Nalley has an incredible range backed with impressive power. The songs of “Architects of the Void” work well with his style and his performance on the title track elevate that song to soaring heights that would otherwise be unattainable. Nalley is a welcome addition to the band and his contributions are complementary to say the least.

Behold! The Monolith’s triumphant return, ‘Architects of the Void,’ understandably marks a slight change in sound and execution. Their third full-length, like its predecessors, is a sprawling metal masterpiece marked by memorable riffs, scorching leads, and intricate song structures. The band, in the face of tragedy, have churned out their darkest album to date that incrementally exchanges the atmospherics that were in abundance on their first two releases for anger and even more aggression. ‘Architects of the Void’ is not necessarily better or worse than previous efforts…just slightly different, yet still it kicks ass. 'Architects of the Void' is set to be released on September 29th. Highly recommended…