Saturday, November 28, 2015

…on the edge of space: SPELLJAMMER – ‘Ancient of Days’

Cosmically atmospheric and seismically heavy are really just two starting points to describe Spelljammer’s triumphant return, Ancient of Days. The Swedish heavy-hitters, now acting as a three-piece, are as sonorous as ever and the reduction in personnel and shifting of duties hasn’t tarnished the band’s mission or overall sound in the slightest. Ancient of Days plays out as both a logical extension and worthy successor to their last epic sonic offering, Vol. II (review HERE). 

Album-opener “Meadow” is a smoldering, pulsating slab of intergalactic debris set for a collision course with the Sun that perfectly establishes the tone for the ensuing onslaught of amplifier worshipping aftershocks to follow. Anyone who has had the privilege of catching Sleep live since reforming in 2009 should have a pretty good idea of what to expect while listening to and experiencing Spelljammer’s latest. The riffs, when in full-effect and dialed-in to crush, are all-encompassing and damn near impenetrable. “Meadow” is mostly a slow burn—a sorcerous wall-of-sound force capable of obliterating a small planet. Spelljammer’s proficiency with intertwining massive barrages of distorted riffs with softer, spacier moments has only grown over time.

The trippy, yet bluesy, intro to “From Slumber” elucidates Spelljammer’s deftness with crafting subtle textures and ability to manipulate tension—a tension that is eventually laid-to-waste by the heft of “The Pathfinder.” In addition to highlighting the psychedelic side of Spelljammer, “From Slumber” also illuminates the fluid, wave-like bass playing of Niklas Olsson who had previously played guitar on prior releases. The bass presence on the entire album takes Spelljammer’s music to previously unattainable planes.

Ancient of Days is a more-than-welcome addition to Spelljammer’s stellar discography, especially when not long after the release of Vol. II the band’s future appeared uncertain. Ancient of Days is as good as anything they have released prior and the band is just as potent, if not more so, as a three-piece. Fans of immense, psychedelic doom and heavy rock will not be disappointed in Ancient of Days. Easily one of the year’s very best…



Tuesday, November 17, 2015

TOMBSTONES – ‘Vargariis’

With 2013’s Red Skies and Dead Eyes it was apparent that Norway’s Tombstones had joined a select and elite class of musicians who seemed to improve and progress with each subsequent release. Red Skies and Dead Eyes was an immense, earth-quaking album from start to finish that upped the ante in terms of songwriting and musicianship. After spending a few weeks with the band’s upcoming fourth full-length, Vargariis, it’s safe to report that Tombstones have not only matched the obliterating heft found on their standout albums Year of the Burial and Red Skies and Dead Eyes, but they have miraculously somehow managed to make their largest leap stylistically and compositionally. Vargariis finds the Oslo three-piece plummeting into a blackened abyss and unleashing their darkest and heaviest material to date.

The most striking element of Vargariis is how unbelievably immense the album sounds. It’s simply monstrous. Once the feedback begins to wane on the album opener, “Barren Fields,” Tombstones unload a sonorous assault of riffs and percussive battery that is almost unprecedented in their discography. The first thing that comes to mind is the seismic aural attack of Belfast’s Slomatics. The remainder of the album isn’t quite as heavy as the opener, but it comes extremely close.

Though Tombstones have increased their overall heft and expanded their tunes compositionally they have also expanded their sonic palette.  Vargariis finds the band stretching their tunes out to even greater lengths and incorporating more blackened elements into their repertoire. “Oceans of Consciousness,” for example, kicks off at a furious, blasting pace before settling into a more familiar Tombstones-like groove. At over ten minute in length “Oceans of Consciousness” barely edges out the other five tunes for longest song length, but Tombstones are able to keep things interesting with shifts in tempo and a few returns to the blasting onslaught that opened the track.

With a release date set for December 4, 2015 it is safe to say that, without a doubt, Vargariis is one of the heaviest albums of the year. And though the band has adopted a darker, grimmer sonic approach the band has not abandoned their love of heavy, mesmerizing riffs. Returns to bluesy, laidback stoner jams also surface on the latter half of “Oceans of Consciousness” and are embedded throughout the album closer “Pyre of the Cloth.” Fans of Tombstones will not be disappointed and Vargariis will undoubtedly garner new fans. Vargariis is a triumph in every way.



Thursday, November 5, 2015

…dirges from the Abyss: BLACK CAPRICORN – ‘Ira Dei’ EP

Over the span of three full-lengths and a killer split with fellow countrymen Bretus (review HERE), Italy’s Black Capricorn have been harnessing and channeling cosmic emanations into potent meditations of trance-inducing psychedelic doom. On the heels of their excellent split comes the unexpected, limited time only release, Ira Dei EP. Though the material found on Ira Dei is no great departure from the band’s previous work the three tracks represent some of Black Capricorn’s darkest material to date. Ira Dei is a collection of ritualistic dirges that are as heavy as they are hypnotizing.

Among the many things that Black Capricorn does well is building palpable tension with their song intros and the EP opener, “Evil Horde of Lucifer,” is no exception with its rising-tide of cryptic noise and briefly backmasked instrumentation that ultimately yields to a lumbering groove. The track effectively weaves chant-like French vocals with more forceful vocals sung in English to powerful effect.

“Zeernebooch,” the most memorable track of the EP, spins a grim tale about the destruction of the human race at the hands of the dark god who holds dominion over the dead. The instrumentation is more than suitable for the subject matter and the track features fuzzed out, acid-rock leads buried within the hulking riffs, along with some deceptively nuanced percussion.

Don’t sleep on this one as Ira Dei is only available for a limited time (one week) as the band hopes to use the proceeds from the as-of-now digital only release to help with their upcoming European tour. Though the EP is only available for a limited time digitally the band hopes to use the tracks for either a split release or as part of an EP in physical format.