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Columnus Metallicus: Heavy Metal For March Reviewed By Kez Whelan
Kez Whelan , March 17th, 2020 09:30

From My Dying Bride to Tombs via a new one by Body Count, Kez Whelan is back with all of your heavy metal album reviews for March

Welcome to another edition of Columnicus Metallicus, coming to you live and direct this month from the end of the world. Well, it’s certainly beginning to feel that way at least, with the COVID-19 virus wreaking havoc across the globe, and the music industry taking a particularly nasty hit as tours are getting cancelled left, right and centre for safety concerns.

It’s worth remembering that there are thousands of artists, booking agents, promoters, festival organisers, stagehands, roadies, sound and lighting technicians and more currently fearing for the worst as they watch their livelihoods getting put on lockdown right before their very eyes, powerless to do anything about it – so if you’re in a position where you can afford to take the loss of your ticket cost instead of clamouring for your refund, it could a tremendous boon for the people struggling on the other end, and be the difference between returning to a gig-filled world or not once this has all blown over.

Until it does, you’ll be pleased to hear that recorded music is still just doing fine, with the year’s release schedule starting to ramp up dramatically after a slow start. As always, there’s just too much to cover in this little column; I’ve already reviewed the swaggerin’, horror themed death & roll of Video Nasties’ debut Dominion and US death-grinders Wvrm’s Colony Collapse elsewhere so haven’t written about them again here, but they’re both well worth checking out.

I haven’t even had a chance to collect my thoughts on new opuses from Mondo Generator, Khost and Insect Ark either, after grappling with some of the particularly intense records below (not to mention listening to Spectral Lore and Mare Cognitum’s mammoth two-hour long split several times). So if you’re currently holed up at home in quarantine, what better way to keep the old cabin fever at bay than diving into another month-load of metallic marvels? Scrub up those hands and let’s dive in…

Today Is The Day - No Good To Anyone
(The End)

Unsettling times call for unsettling music, and it doesn’t get much more unsettling than Steve Austin’s Today Is The Day. Expectations were running high for this eleventh full-length, especially after their last, 2014’s Animal Mother was such a powerful, well-realised and intense summary of everything that has made Austin’s unique fusion of noise rock, sludge metal, grindcore and harsh noise so good over the past 28 years. As ever though, No Good To Anyone seems to revel in confounding expectations, but it’s not always successful.

The album is notably less ferocious than previous outings, with a palpably weary, dejected tone throughout. Sometimes this really works, as on the opening title track, which kicks off with that immediately recognisable, suffocatingly smoggy guitar tone before patiently building into a genuinely disorientating wall of sound as Austin unleashes his neuroses and general hatred for mankind in a far more reserved and sinister manner than usual. He also seems to be singing a lot more on this record as opposed to deploying his usual bloodcurdling howl. Again, this has mixed results; on the likes of ‘Attacked By An Angel’ and the gleefully sleazy apocalyptic anthem ‘You’re All Gonna Die’, his voice sounds incredibly expressive and somehow simultaneously vulnerable and terrifying. Elsewhere however, tracks like ‘Mercy’ and ‘Mexico’ feel oddly stodgy and unimaginative, with disinterested vocals and riffs approaching dreary local stoner rock band territory rather than the head-spinning, gut-punching horror you’d expect from Today Is The Day.

Tracks like ‘OJ Kush’ fare much better, bringing back the same hard rock influences that ran throughout 2011’s Pain Is A Warning in a playful manner, with huge doomy riffs stuttering into an awkward yet infectious groove, kind of like listening to a really scratched Master Of Reality CD. ‘Burn In Hell’ is even better, and the moment where its cocksure rock & roll strut abruptly breaks into an untamed grindcore assault is easily the album’s most thrilling and confrontational moment. It’s difficult not to miss that energy elsewhere, even though Austin sounds fantastic on the more low key acoustic numbers (I’m loathe to call something as ominous and subtly psychotic as ‘Orland’ a “ballad”, but you know what I mean). Closer ‘Rockets And Dreams’ is one of those fantastically psychedelic stream-of-consciousness soundscapes that Austin excels in, veering through heart wrenching folk, swathes of deep, vibrating ambience and even a thoroughly distorted and warped interpretation of the American national anthem.

All things considered, No Good To Anyone is a strange record, and nowhere near the same calibre as their last one. It’s fairly muddled and uneven, but it’s still interesting and creepy enough to warrant thorough investigation for hardcore fans. If you’re new to the band however, this definitely isn’t the best entry point – start with Temple Of The Morning Star, In The Eyes Of God or even Animal Mother and then work your way up to this one. It has some fantastic moments, but it’s probably the most fatigued sounding LP in the band’s entire discography.

Body Count - Carnivore
(Century Media)

After Body Count made a convincing comeback with 2014’s Manslaughter, 2017’s Bloodlust hit like a molotov cocktail to the face, a focused, enraged and socially conscious assault that confirmed the band was not only back, but still very much a force to be reckoned with. With the state of the world deteriorating rapidly in the intervening years and America’s political situation worsening severely, you’d think Body Count’s righteous anger would be more pointed and enflamed than ever – which makes it surprising and disappointing that Carnivore’s title track kicks off the album with a tirade against… vegans? It’s all fairly tongue in cheek, but still feels like a strange misfire. With so many more deserving targets in the world right now, Ice-T choosing to take shots at dairy-free folk makes him sound more like a reactionary, out-of-touch Redditor than a furious, free-thinking firebrand.

Whilst it seems like Body Count’s political ire has been ironically defanged on Carnivore, on a purely sonic level this is probably the heaviest they’ve ever sounded, with thick, detuned guitars dishing out brutal low-end chugs and dissonant, anxiety inducing squeals, but sadly the actual riffing itself is relatively uninspired, falling back on the same staccato breakdowns with alarming frequency. There are also some of the worst vocal hooks Ice-T has ever put his name to on here, with the gaudy ‘Another Level’ leaning way too heavily on its dull, unimaginative chorus, as Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta provides an unintentionally hilarious call-and-response bark. ‘When I’m Gone’, a tribute to departed West Coast rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle, has a genuinely heartfelt message behind it, but still fails to stick the landing, with Ice trading flat croons with Evanescence’s Amy Lee like its 2003.

Carnivore isn’t a total wash however, and there are some genuinely thrilling moments here. Hearing Power Trip’s Riley Gale punctuating Ice’s cold flow with hoarse shouts on the bouncy ‘Point The Finger’ is a blast, whilst ‘Bum-Rush’ and the exaggeratedly bitter ‘No Remorse’ (which features the immortal line “if you was starving, I wouldn’t fix you a hot bowl of shit!”) feel like classic Body Count bangers, custom built for mosh pits. ‘The Hate Is Real’, meanwhile, finds Ice firing shots at institutional racism whilst also examining how his own hatred and prejudices affect his own life atop eerie, South Of Heaven style riffs and is arguably one of the band’s most impactful songs to date. Elsewhere however, ‘Thee Critical Breakdown’ feels like a re-tread of ‘Talk Shit Get Shot’, just with less energy and more cartoon punching sound effects, and with the track-listing padded out with metallic covers of Ice-T classics ‘Colors’ and ‘6 'N The Mornin’ (not to mention the utterly pointless rendition of ‘Ace Of Spades’), it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the band might be running out of ideas at this point.

Tombs - Monarchy Of Shadows
(Season Of Mist)

Brooklyn’s Tombs are back with a vengeance after their somewhat disappointing 2017 opus The Grand Annihilation. Not that it was a truly bad record, but after 2014’s magnum opus Savage Gold found the band’s curious blend of black and post metal coalescing into something truly extraordinary, The Grand Annihilation’s more prominent post punk influence didn’t feel like the band were playing to their strengths, leaning more on dodgy baritone choruses than the unbridled genre-bending intensity of yore. Monarchy Of Shadows implements these influences far more effectively however, with frontman Mike Hill’s moribund moan and the twisted, gloomy riffs of songs like ‘Once Falls The Guillotine’ and ‘Man Behind The Sun’ strongly recalling the more introverted, gothic moments of Celtic Frost’s Into The Pandemonium. The title track proves the band have lost none of their windswept metallic bluster either, recalling Uada’s storming yet melodic approach, whilst ‘The Dark Rift’ utilises creepy, Emperor-esque keys atop ferocious blastbeats to chilling effect. ‘Necro Alchemy’ might be the biggest surprise however, an oddly anthemic, no-nonsense black metal banger that drops into a gigantic Suffocation style slam riff half way through, without sounding forced or ham-fisted whatsoever. At just over half an hour, Monarchy Of Shadows feels like a bit of a tease for whatever Tombs unleash next, but it’s a thrilling reminder that this band still has plenty of life left in them yet.

Dystopian Future Movies - Inviolate
(Lasairfhíona Records)

It’s hard to believe it’s been just five years since Dystopian Future Movies’ debut EP first wowed us with its combination of gloomy shoegaze, huge doom riffs and guitarist Caroline Cawley’s heartfelt vocals and keen ear for powerful, emotive hooks. The band have since gone from strength to strength, getting heavier and more expressive with each new release, and this second full-length proper features some of their most expansive, capacious material to date. These songs sound gigantic, with opener ‘Countenance’ dishing out introspective Daydream Nation-esque chords atop vast swathes of Neurosis-style churn, building to an enormous climax complete with ecstatic classic rock soloing, and ‘All The Light’ beginning with a stuttering staccato pulse and tightly controlled blasts of distortion before opening up into a dazzling, immersive soundscape filled with yearning, beautiful guitar textures courtesy of guitarist Rafe Dunn. ‘Rules’ plays the long game masterfully too, with drummer Bill Fisher steadily upping the intensity until he’s unleashing some truly blistering fills whilst syrupy, jet black swells of distortion erupt above.

There are more than a couple of surprises along the way too; ‘Black-Cloaked’ is a driving, upbeat anthem that manages to retain the band’s signature gloom whilst transplanting it onto a blaring, grungy banger that’s probably their most immediate and aggressive yet. Bassist Oisín O’Doherty really shines on ‘Wreckage’, which pairs an undulating, dubby bass line with jittery, anxious chords and a haunting but incredibly infectious vocal hook, like a Dolores O’Riordan fronted Public Image Ltd. Sounding like it could be equally at home on 4AD as it would Hydra Head, Inviolate is another great addition to Dystopian Future Movies’ growing discography, as they continue to blur the lines between doom metal, shoegaze and the murkier side of 90s alternative rock to create a sumptuously dark, hypnotic sound that is all their own.

My Dying Bride - The Ghost Of Orion
(Nuclear Blast)

After five years since their last album Feel The Misery (their longest gap between albums yet), Bradford miserablists My Dying Bride return with The Ghost Of Orion this month. The intervening half-decade has been eventful for the band to say the least, with founding guitarist Calvin Robertshaw leaving the band after rejoining for Feel The Misery, and tragically, vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe's young daughter being diagnosed with cancer (although thankfully, she’s since been declared to be in remission). All of which considered, there’s a curious optimism to this thirteenth full-length; whilst still painted in the band’s trademark hues of grief and despair, songs like opener ‘Your Broken Shore’ and the beautiful ‘To Outlive The Gods’ have a subtle yet tangible sense of gratitude and restrained joy, revelling in the miracle of life whilst also acknowledging how fleeting and fragile it is. The production is extremely glossy and crisp this time round, and with Aaron’s vocal harmonies feeling more direct, expressive and layered than they have done in years, this is arguably the band’s most accessible outing to date.

Fear not though, the band aren’t dishing out anthemic pop bangers now or anything like that, and there’s enough of their trademark gloom here to satisfy old fans (check out morose ten minute dirge ‘The Old Earth’), but the overall affect isn’t as suffocating or oppressive as older classics like Turn Loose The Swans, but instead more warm, inviting and crystalline. The band’s sound is still as densely layered as ever however, with Jo Quail lending extraordinarily evocative cello throughout. Wardruna vocalist Lindy Fay Hella even shows up to provide some striking vocals to stunning centre piece ‘The Solace’ which, with her angelic intonations combining with thick, weepy guitar harmonies, comes across like a fusion of Dead Can Dance and Thergothon.

The Ghost Of Orion isn’t perfect, and at times, the production seems to work against the band’s more mournful moments, making it hard not to yearn for a bit more bite sometimes. However, it’s still a remarkably elegant and powerful slab of doomy goodness, especially given that My Dying Bride formed a full thirty years ago. There aren’t many bands that manage to age this gracefully.

Temple Of Void - The World That Was
(Shadow Kingdom)

If you prefer your doom grittier, nastier and altogether deathlier, then this third album from Michigan’s Temple Of Void is essential listening this month. The quintet plough a similarly sludgy, ominous vibe to bands like Hooded Menace and Coffins, but have definitely managed to carve out their own sound within this often overcrowded niche. Opening tracks ‘A Beast Among Us’ and ‘Self-Schism’ both begin with barbaric, primitive and immensely satisfying detuned chugging before building into something far more sinister, conjuring tapestries of creepy, swirling guitar lines that subtly lap against the humongous riffs and add an unnerving new dimension to the age old death/doom blueprint. You may recognise vocalist Mike Erdody’s deep guttural belches from his work with Acid Witch, but he really shines here, enunciating every word clearly despite sounding like a giant interdimensional space toad. He even gets a chance to show off his range on the mournful ‘Leave The Light Behind’, alternating between cavernous growls and forlorn clean croons as desolate riffs and kaleidoscopic synth tones orbit around him, like a severely stoned teenage Paradise Lost taking a trip to the planetarium.

The use of synthesizers is fantastic throughout, never sounding tacky or pulling focus from the thick, swampy atmosphere, but adding just enough textural intrigue to keep these songs sounding fresh and bizarre. Colossal nine minute closer ‘The World That Was’ is a fine example, building to an absolutely enveloping climax with wild synth burbles spiralling around some seriously dense riffery. This is an impressive record that manages to slot right into that traditional death/doom lineage whilst offering up enough fresh new ideas and compositional nuance to distinguish itself from the pack. Highly recommended.

Perdition Temple - Sacraments Of Descension
(Hells Headbangers)

Temple Of Void aren’t the only temple you should be worshipping at this month, with Gene Palubicki’s Perdition Temple dropping their third (and arguably most ferocious) LP too. Gene formed the band after the dissolution of the legendary Angelcorpse, a band that took that unique Altars Of Madness sound and used it as a springboard to catapult themselves into a whole new realm of frantic, unbelievably aggressive death metal. Whilst they may not have delved into the same psychedelic, otherworldly spheres as Morbid Angel themselves, they certainly managed to make those twisted, fiddly Azagthoth inspired riffing patterns all their own, with Gene obviously being a huge part of that. Perdition Temple seemed to pick up exactly where Angelcorpse left off in many ways, so Sacraments Of Descension won’t come as a surprise to long-term fans – this still sounds like Altars… played at twice the speed, with ungodly, blasphemous leads tearing through the chaos like a firework in a bar brawl (just check out the blistering licks on ‘Devil’s Countess’).

The band’s sound doesn’t feel too derivative despite wearing their influences on their sleeves, and there are more instances of thick, menacing grooves than there ever were in Angelcorpse (the Bolt Thrower-esque ‘Desolation Usurper’, for example, plays off grimy tremolo riffs and weighty chugs atop a bed of nonstop double kick fury) and new bassist Alex Blume (of Ares Kingdom fame) makes his presence felt without ever overshadowing the frantic, head spinning riffs, which are easily the star of the show here. If you’ve been looking for something to fill the Angelcorpse shaped hole in your life, or if you’re just another Altars Of Madness obsessive (and let’s face it, if you’re reading this column then why wouldn’t you be?) then this, friends, is the good shit.

Sweven - The Eternal Resonance
(Ván Records)

In hindsight, I don’t think it would be too hyperbolic to describe Morbus Chron’s second album, 2014’s Sweven, as one of the most important death metal records of the past decade. Whilst their debut, 2011’s Sleepers In The Rift was a hugely enjoyable (if very derivative) slab of gonzo, splatter happy Autopsy worship, the leap to Sweven’s sprawling, progressive and acutely morose compositions somehow seems even more surprising and original now than it did at the time. The debut was very much a part of the old school death metal revival that was just starting to really gain momentum, but Sweven pushed far beyond that and demonstrated that you could still maintain that vintage death metal atmosphere whilst taking the sound into entirely unchartered new realms – and to that extent, whilst it may not be an obvious sonic influence on the current explosion of forward-thinking OSDM bands like Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, Horrendous, Chthe’ilist etc, you could make a convincing argument that is was the catalyst that really set this whole scene off. All of which makes the fact that Morbus Chron abruptly disbanded just a year later seem all the more tragic, inspiring thoughts have what could have been had they stuck it out.

Luckily however, guitarist/vocalist Robert Andersson is back with a new band, and whilst the name might imply this is a direct continuation of Morbus Chron’s classic LP, it is and it, erm, isn’t. Whilst steeped in the same sullen atmosphere, a lot of the death metal elements of Morbus Chron’s sound have fallen by the wayside in favour of a more proggy, often much calmer approach. It hasn’t completely dissipated, as the triumphant Schuldiner-ian riffs of ‘Reduced To An Ember’ or frantic hammer blasts of ‘Mycelia’ will attest (not to mention Andersson’s hoarse, tortured vocals, which are still some of the most expressive and emotive death growls around), but for the most part The Eternal Resonance comes across more like a blend of the sinewy, jazzy flow of Norway’s Virus with the moody autumnal gloom of Morningrise-era Opeth, with starkly beautiful pieces like nine minute opener proper ‘By Virtue Of A Promise’ conjuring an extremely forlorn and oppressive atmosphere with clean sounding guitars and eerie, subtle rhythmic cues.

Andersson’s chord patterns and distinctive guitar tone will feel instantly familiar to Morbus Chron fans, but besides that, what Sweven (the band) seem to have most in common with Sweven (the album) is its reverential and introspective approach to morality. Whilst death in death metal is quite often treated as a gruesome punchline, Sweven seemed to treat death with equal parts fascination, acceptance and fear, be it in the creepy, intensely morbid compositions or Andersson’s lyrics themselves – Sweven’s emotional apex, when he howls “I assemble my body, I focus my mind, to take the final step, and leave everything behind”, has moved this greasy old hack to tears on more than one occasion, a feat not even my all-time favourite death metal records can pull off. In this sense, The Eternal Resonance is a pretty perfect sequel to Sweven, continuing that same extraordinarily well-realised, thought provoking aesthetic but without simply retreading the same ground or leaning on time-worn death metal clichés. This is an astonishing slice of dark progressive metal that will take both fans of old school death metal and prog rock to some seriously macabre places.

Venomous Skeleton - Drowning In Circles
(Everlasting Spew)

Speaking of awesome early 2010s death metal bands that promptly dropped off the map, did you ever wonder what happened to Sonne Adam? The Israeli four piece gained quite a lot of hype at the start of the decade with their gloriously murky take on that whole cavernous, slightly doomy death metal sound with a series of great EPs and their sole album, 2011’s Transformation, landing them prestigious festival slots and generally causing OSDM nerds to drool all over their Incantation longsleeves. The band seem to have been quiet for a few years now, but 3/4s of them have since re-emerged under the (admittedly much sillier) moniker Venomous Skeleton, finally dropping their debut full-length this year. To be honest, little has changed from Sonne Adam, which is hardly a bad thing. Drowning In Circles certainly feels like a continuation of that same sound, if perhaps even danker and more decrepit sounding. The production is grimy as fuck, with everything sounding it like it’s been buried under several feet of damp soil and then dug up again and left in an old cellar for several days. Tracks like ‘Tomb Of The Restless Soul’ and the chilling ‘Alevas San Tatianas Aleli’ are ever so slightly faster and more frantic than Sonne Adam, but then cuts like ‘Chalice To The Other World’ and ‘Hallucinogenic Sulfuric Mantra’ delve right back into doom territory, hurling thick chunks of slimy darkness around with malicious intent. Whilst nothing here may come as a huge surprise, it’s good to have these guys back spewing forth this kind of thoroughly rotten, deliciously nasty death metal; I can’t imagine any Sonne Adam fans would be disappointed with this.

Eye Flys - Tub Of Lard
(Thrill Jockey)

It seems to churlish to throw the word “supergroup” at anything existing within the same axis as Full Of Hell and The Body, given how amorphous and collaborative that group of musicians has become over the last few years, with consistently great new projects springing out of it all the time (like last month’s Sightless Pit, for example). I’m just going to go ahead and slap that term on Eye Flys however, seeing as they only really exist on the periphery of that. Full Of Hell guitarist Spencer Hazard may be on hand to coat their debut in sheets of seething guitar noise, but the project is more the brainchild of vocalist/ guitarist Jake Smith, bassist in Philadelphia powerviolence trio Backslider, who created the raw bones of each of these tracks alongside drummer Patrick Forrest and bassist Kevin Bernstein of Baltimore grinders Triac.

Given that Backslider had been going in an increasingly sludgy, noise rock-esque direction, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Eye Flys have gone full throttle in that direction, digesting the first few Melvins records and the Amphetamine Reptile back catalogue and then spewing them back out with an absolutely righteous punk energy. This thing sounds absolutely furious, whether ripping past at adrenaline pumping speed on ‘BLS’ or slowing down into muscular, menacing grooves on ‘Tubba Lard’. Smith’s acerbic, sarcastic lyrics take aim at everything from schoolyard buddies on the aforementioned title track, that very particular brand of 21st century anxiety on the stomping ‘Not Ready For Tomorrow’ and casual misogyny on ‘Nice Guy’. Hazard manages to add all sorts of wild textures throughout too, be it ‘Not Ready For Tomorrow’ being punctuated with Merzbow-esque squeals of bleating feedback and what sounds suspiciously like a malfunctioning kettle, or ‘Reality Tunnel’s fractured, cut-up Hendrix-isms shooting past burly chugs at warp speed. The tense, anxious riffs and propulsive tom thumps of closer ‘Perception Is Gamble’ really allow Hazard the room to go all out, saving some of the most volatile fretboard fireworks for last and ending the record on what sounds like Greg Ginn and Matt Pike trading leads whilst submerged in a vat of molten lead. This fucking rules basically, so don’t sleep on it.

Telepathy - Burn Embrace
(Svart)

Colchester’s Telepathy are sounding better than ever on their third opus, with their cinematic instrumental post metal sprawl honed to the most efficient and effective they’ve ever sounded on record. Songs like ‘Pariah’ and ‘Aonaran’ are some of the most immediate and visceral tunes the quartet have penned to date, with soaring, glistening guitar leads forming massive hooks atop the thunderous, busy rhythm section. But whilst Burn Embrace may feel more compact and streamlined in general, that doesn’t mean Telepathy don’t make space to go off on tangents and bask in their own towering, powerful racket. More subtle, atmospheric cuts like ‘Black Earth’ and ‘The Void In Aimless Flight’ take their time in building from gentle, twinkling soundscapes into genuinely massive sounding pay-offs. Whilst a lot of contemporary post-metal can sound overly polite or dreary, Telepathy aren’t afraid to really emphasise the “metal” over the “post” when needed, as opener ‘Eternal Silence’s restrained, emotive intro suddenly gives way to ferocious blastbeats and taut tremolo riffing. Whilst the band’s songwriting is strong enough to ensure you won’t miss vocals, the last two tracks here continue experimenting with the human voice in a similar way to their last album Tempest. ‘Sorrow Surrenders Its Crown’ features some particularly grandiose chants towards the end, that complement the song’s expansive climax perfectly, whilst heart wrenching closer ‘Burn Embrace’ finds sublime vocal harmonies and harrowing shrieks rubbing against plaintive chords and some absolutely beautiful cello, ending the record on an understated but extremely powerful note.

Spectral Lore & Mare Cognitum - Wanderers: Astrology Of The Nine
(Entropic Recordings/ I, Voidhanger)

Last, but by absolutely no means least, we have this gargantuan, high concept two-hour split release from two of black metal’s most interesting and forward thinking solo acts, Greece’s Spectral Lore and Portland’s Mare Cognitum. The two had previously joined forces on 2013’s Sol split, but Wanderers is such an ambitious, expansive piece of work it makes Sol look like a mere warm-up. Rather than just feeling like two separate hour-long albums packaged together, Wanderers works as one enormous, cohesive listening experience, with the two acts trading songs back and forth before the record culminates in two vast collaborative pieces. Each musician’s style is similar enough to compliment the other and prevent any wild tonal shifts, but distinct enough from each other that they don’t just sound like the same band. Spectral Lore is more melodic, minimal and earthy sounding for instance, whilst Mare Cognitum is more outwardly aggressive with a denser, spacier style, but both bands are able to conjure an incredibly atmosphere and excel at writing long-form, progressive pieces that build to satisfying climaxes rather than just feeling lengthy for the sake of it.

The two-hour run time here really gives each act space to experiment and try out new things too; whilst the first two tracks – Spectral Lore’s ‘Mercury (The Virtuous)’ and Mare Cognitum’s ‘Mars (The Warrior)’ dish out all the grim minor chords, ferocious blasting and pained shrieks you’d expect from the genre, ‘Earth (The Mother)’ finds Spectral Lore toying with stirring Maiden-esque guitar harmonies atop ominous funeral doom tempos, whilst Mare Cognitum’s ‘Jupiter (The Giant)’ builds a hypnotic drone out of a richly layered bed of tremolo, whilst sparse tom thuds ring out beneath in a deliciously doomy fashion. Of the two collaborative tracks, ‘Pluto (The Gatekeeper) Part I: Exodus Though The Frozen Wastes’ is a lengthy piece of cold, celestial ambience that works both as a welcome breather after the preceding hour and a half of black metal, and as a perfect intro to ‘Pluto (The Gatekeeper) Part II: The Astral Bridge’, a harsh but absolutely beautiful song featuring sublime layers of rich, emotive leads gliding gracefully over swathes of dark, steadily bending chords and militant double-kick drumming, before unleashing a storm of rabid, surprisingly thrashy riffing to end the record on a pulse-racingly savage note. It may only be March, but it’s difficult to see how any other split this year could top this thing in terms of scope, vision and ambition. Don’t balk at the length if you’re in any way interested in atmospheric black metal, this thing is essential.

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