War Inside – S.U.T.U.R.E.
Location: Nantes, France
Label: Finisterian Dead End
Blackened death metal is a particular weakness of mine. I love the mixture of death metal’s ferocity with the nihilism of black metal. Bands like Behemoth and Belphegor have helped pave the way, taking blasphemy and brutality to new heights. Since France seems to have a corner on the market for interesting variations on black metal, why not add blackened death to the repertoire? War Inside, from Nantes, seem poised to do just that with their latest release S.U.T.U.R.E.
The opening volley of riffs on “Demiurge” suggest that the listener might be in for a brutal death fest in the vein of Suffocation or Decapitated. Indeed, there are many moments throughout the album that lean towards the death side of the sonic spectrum, with the occasional breakdown thrown in, like on “The Milgram Whore.” The real eye-opener here is War Inside’s ability to flawlessly transition between death metal, occasional metalcore forays (think Black Dahlia Murder, minus the mall-goth aspect) and melodic black metal, similar to Dissection. A special mention is required for “Cold As Dead,” a favorite track of mine, with its mid-paced, melancholy black metal feel, which gradually picks up speed before going full-on Behemoth.
The production is pretty solid, giving the guitars a boost in the mix for the black metal sections, and plenty of bass and drums for the more death-oriented sections. Some of the sections sound a bit melo-death/metalcore-ish (again, Black Dahlia Murder comes to mind) but don’t let that stop you, War Inside owe just as much (if not more) to Behemoth and Dissection. S.U.T.U.R.E. is a solid blackened death release from a promising young band that is definitely worth your time.
Virulency –The Anthropodermic Manuscript of Retribution
Location: Basque Country/Cantabria, Spain
Label: New Standard Elite
The Anthropodermic Manuscript of Retribution , the debut full-length release by Spain’s Virulency, sounds like a chaotic nightmare (in the best way possible) compared to the early albums in the death metal genre. Virulency employ inhaled vocals (often called “pig squeals”) and fretless bass guitars in order to create a more extreme sound in their particular niche. The main portion of the music, i.e. the drums and guitars, are fairly standard for brutal death, with crushing, heavy riffs accompanied by blasting drums. There are plenty of changes in time signature, creating a dizzying, unsettling effect, enhanced greatly by the serpentine bass lines that slide up and down the fretboard. It’s pretty effective most of the time, but can be a bit distracting when the band goes into a slamming breakdown. Vocally, Virulency mix the pig squeals with a distorted, guttural sound similar to Swedish goregrind titans Regurgitate. Again, this works most of the time, but can be a bit distracting, particularly since each track has what sounds like a vomiting and belching bullfrog constantly sounding off.
Production-wise, The Anthropodermic Manuscript of Retribution is pretty well mixed, though the fretless bass gets a little too much of a boost at times. The last minute of “Sculptured Didelphic Uterus” ends the album on an eerie industrial metal note, with electronic drums, sound clips, and heavily processed electric guitars. Virulency show a lot of promise, and with just a couple of tweaks could really be a force to be reckoned with in the brutal death category.
Lift the Medium – Mastermind
Location: Ohio, USA
Lift the Medium like to straddle things, whether it be the line between rock and metal or the gap between the early 2000’s and the late 90’s. They claim to draw on a variety of inspirations, ranging from Elton John to Pantera which solidifies just how hard this band sits on fences. But can indecision be a virtue? Probably not.
Bear with me on this one, Mastermind is the blueprint for what a collaboration between Volbeat, Bullet for my Valentine, Nickelback, and Avril Lavigne might sound like. Ten years ago I could have imagined several tracks being played to death on radio, and that is exactly Mastermind’s main issue. Lift the Medium craft a clean and polished sound which makes them easy to listen to, but hard to get lost in. The band, being only three years old, has yet to establish an identity; although this is to be expected for such a young band, being faceless can also be crippling. There is nothing on the album that I haven’t heard before, with used riffs, tired percussion, and lyrics that Lift the Mediumstick like used tape. A handful of the tracks are engaging, but the majority get lost in the mix and fail to impact.
Lift the Medium are capable of a polished and smooth performance, but their concepts and ideas need some work. Mastermind stands as a testament to the dangers of playing it safe and not stepping outside of the comfort zone. They have the potential to produce something amazing (“The People” was awesome) but this effort doesn’t reach very high. With a little creative spice, the band could be one to keep an ear out for, but with their current performance they just drift past.
Hemelbestormer – Aether
Label: Debemur Morti Prouductions
This first album by Hemelbestormer (who, going by the latitude/longitude coordinates given for their location on their Facebook page, are based in Belgium) boasts a wide array of stylistic influences in its release notes and, happily, the four sizable tracks presented by the band step up to this claim. Given that there are only four, and each one stretches out to ten-plus minutes, let’s go ahead and look at each in some detail.
The first song, “After Us The Flood” begins in a predominately sludgy fashion, thick bass growling as rough-filtered guitar and heavy drum-beats keep things slow but powerful. As it continues, though, the tones become thinner and less oppressive, shifting towards a post-metal stance for a while before bringing the sludge back in and melding the two approaches for a clear-riffed finish. Second track “Starless” starts off with a fairly black metal riff, though more slowly played and more lushly toned than the traditional manner would have it. Building menace in the surrounding sounds (particularly some subtle and well-used synth texturing) and bringing up the bass’ presence, doom metal infiltrates the proceedings and things start to hit with less restraint, though a drift back towards ambiguous soundscapes occurs towards the end.
“The Purging” avoids the tasteless option of using vomiting noises for its composition, constructing instead a broad main riff to follow. Again going deeper and heavier as things proceed, there are some nicely chilly guitar tones woven into the bass’ thick reverb, with the drummer keeping the pace and whomping in time, before things eventually warpi back around to a gentler form. “On Desolate Plains” provides a conclusion with a nearly twenty-minute run-time, beginning in a blackened doom style and journeying through the terrain of the previous songs while finding new ways to explore them.
As a first album, it’s an impressive debut. There’s a strong variety to the tracks, both from one to the next and within each one’s boundaries, and enough liveliness and sense of character communicated through the performances that the absence of vocals really doesn’t cause a negative impact. The announced plans for a vinyl release do make me curious as to how the songs will be squeezed in there, as with their approximate run-times (in order, 15, 12, 12, 19) I’m suspecting side D will be an engraved emblem. Physical formatting aside, big ups to the band for what they’ve put together for their first LP. Fans of Ulver and similar acts would do well to check in on this one.