Palace of Worms/Ecferus – Split
Some of my favorite black metal records over the years were all from one man “bands,” such as “Nocturnal Poisoning” by Xasthur, and “True Traitor, True Whore” by Leviathan. The one-man band set up is a time honored tradition in extreme metal, with one of the earliest examples being (of course) Burzum. Oakland’s Palace of Worms and Indiana’s Ecferus are two up and coming projects in the scene, and have unleashed a split album that showcases two different shades of black.
First up are three tracks by Palace of Worms, which have a heavy, death metal-influenced tone. Formed in 2007 by Nicholas Katich, who performs under the stage-name Balan, Palace of Worms has been adding more and more death metal into the mix. “Rot From The Stars,” in particular, has a crushing death metal vibe, even though the tempo is often only at a medium pace; the down tuned guitars sound absolutely crushing, and have a chuggy quality that would probably sound a bit muddy if they were played faster. “Wendigo Sickness” has an old school death metal vibe that reminds me of Deicide, managing to balance brutality and relentless speed with an evil tone.
The next three tracks are provided by the somewhat more mysterious Ecferus. Despite having only just begun releasing material since 2015, Ecferus have been making some big waves in the underground scene. The tone is closer to more traditional black metal than the tracks provided by Palace of Worms, though no less intense. The guitars switch between speed-picking, and moodier, slow pieces that still make us of a lot of creepy-sounding minor chords, with howling vocals that reach agonizing pitches in the most feverishly-paced moments. Though there isn’t as much death metal mixed into the music, Ecferus is still pretty heavy, as can be heard on “Ritual Calamity,” which has a chaotic feel reminiscent of Deathspell Omega. The time-signatures change at breakneck speeds, but are not so extreme that the listener isn’t able to enjoy the good riffs, and there are PLENTY of good riffs.
The mixing and mastering on this split was handled by Greg Wilkinson at his Earhammer Studio, which gives the tracks from both artists a uniform sound. There’s a lot of ambience present in both sets of tunes, thanks in part to the fuzzed-out guitar distortion, but also in the subtle use of reverb, giving the songs a “live” feel. With the production being more or less the same, you really get to hear the difference in each band’s approach to their craft, which makes for a pretty compelling black metal record. If you like black metal in any way, shape, or form, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this Palace of Worms/Ecferus split.
Eshtadur – Cornered at the Earth
Location: Pereira, Colombia
Label: Crown And Throne Ltd
Eshtadur are a band from Colombia that play melodic black metal, a genre populated most famously by Scandinavian acts, though there have been notable acts from other countries, such as Italy and England. Still, it’s not every day you hear Dimmu Borgir-esque riffs being played by a band from South America. With a pair of full-lengths, an ep, demo, and a single to their name, Eshtadur have stayed pretty active since their inception in 2005. Cornered at the Earth is the band’s latest single, and it is one hell of an introduction to the music of Eshtadur.
The riffs on Cornered at the Earth, as I mentioned before, sound like the newer material from Dimmu Borgir, which have almost as much in common with melodic death metal as they do standard black metal. With the use of keyboards and synthesizers, Cornered at the Earth manages to capture that epic feel that is pretty much mandatory in any melodic black metal release that’s worth a damn. The vocals don’t ever get into the high-pitched shrieks you typically hear, but are intense none-the-less, with death growls and mid-ranged screaming (often layered in together). The production is top-notch, with plenty of each instrument in the mix. With heavy riffs, brutal vocals, and a synthesizer that adds plenty of atmosphere (without overpowering the tune), Cornered at the Earth is a great track from Eshtadur, and will make an excellent addition to any metalhead’s collection.
Ephedra – Can Ca No Rey
Label: Argonauta Records
Mixing desert rock with heavy metal, this second album from the Swiss band of Ephedra starts its twelve-track trek with a slow-brewed cruiser bruiser in the seven-minute “Vicious Circle”, as the quartet lets their instruments do all of the talking, apart from some well-incorporated spoken-word samples. Bringing an unusually serious tone to the sun-baked grooves of their style, the band shows a willingness to bring the subtler notes out into the exposing light of solos, though later tracks find them just as committed to simply rocking, and doing it hard.
At times, they had me in mind of Behold! The Monolith‘s Architects of the Void album, just shifted to a friendlier, mellower setting. The riffs get put to heavy work, but there’s also tangential touches tucked away in the measures that help stave off the sense of overwrought narrow focus to which even the most well-regarded heavy rock bands can fall victim. It made me grin to hear the guitarist crank away on his whammy bar in the opening of “Cornfield Disaster”, and the drummer working a beat, later in that same song, which went above simply plugging away on the same rhythm for sixteen measures in a row.
There’s an endearing energy and character to the songs, despite the absence of vocals, that gave me a sense of Ephedra looking to all their contemporaries in the heavy rock/metal field, and deciding they would aim for something to call everyone else into stepping up their game. Not everyone will, of course, as mediocrity is just too comfortable for a lot of stoner rock bands, but it’s refreshing to hear a band which won’t let themselves settle into that rut.