Thangorodrim channels the spirits of Middle Earth on “Gil-Estel”

There are perhaps few genres more niche than dungeon synth. This strange love-child of black metal and dark ambient music was birthed in the early 90s, often tracing its roots back to albums by Burzum, Mortiis and Summoning. On an aesthetic level, dungeon synth is deeply indebted to the black metal scene of which its early pioneering artists were members, and frequently draws on many of the same themes and concepts: high fantasy literature, melancholy and sombre moods, nature, and — of course — dark, mouldy dungeons. But the means by which it creates these sometimes ominous, other times triumphant, atmospheres could not be more different. Even today, artists still more often than not rely on ancient analogue synthesizers and little else. There’s an enormous sense of respect for the old ways of doing things — an ethos one can of course trace back to the genre’s roots in black metal.

The deep love of many black metal musicians for the fictional work created by J. R. R. Tolkien is well-established at this point, and it goes back almost to the birth of the genre itself. Thangorodrim is in fact named after the three enormous volcanoes within the Iron Mountains which Morgoth raised during the First Age, while his third album’s title means ‘Star of High Hope’ in Sindarin. Since his last album, Taur Nu Fuin, Thangorodrim has been spoken of in tones of reverence among the dungeon synth community, and as such the anticipation for Gil-Estel has been high.

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PLAGUE WIDOW return with new EP DESPAIR

Californian blackened deathgrind/blisteringly-heavy-as-fuck band Plague Widow have returned from something of a hiatus. They released their stunning split EP with London’s Oblivionized, “This Black Earth”, in 2013, but in 2015 entered a period of inactivity, which they attribute to “many complications over the past couple years such as various lineup changes, relocating to another city, and set-backs in the recording studio”.

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Album review: Wolves in the Throne Room – “Thrice Woven”

I needed an album like this in 2017. An album to take me away from things as they are, away from all the specifics of my own circumstances, and to a place I think many of us have a kind of subconscious nostalgia for, a place we might never have been to, a place which perhaps never existed at all. Olypmia, Washington black metal band Wolves in the Throne Room have always succeeded in this respect. With their debut album ‘Diadem of 12 Stars’, the band translated the cold style of Norwegian black metal into their own American cultural context, re-emerging as an expression of the band’s deep connection with the Pacific North West. The band don’t fundamentally change their approach on “Thrice Woven”, but it’s certainly a more aggressive and immediately gratifying approach to a familiar concept.

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Album review: Incantation – “Profane Nexus”

Profane Nexus is yet another superb offering from one of the most consistent bands in death metal. Rather than seeking to reinvent the wheel, Incantation have been focusing on polishing and refining their genre-defining sound and honing their song-writing chops. Recent years have seen a surge in bands inspired by Incantation‘s cavernous, morbid approach to doom-drenched death metal, but Profane Nexus proves that Incantation are still the reigning kings, as they return with a vengeance. Continue reading “Album review: Incantation – “Profane Nexus””

Demo Roundup vol. 1 (Hex Morbidity, Dragkhar, Disincarnation)

There are a handful of excellent demos that I’ve stumbled across or been directed towards recently that I want to bring to your attention as worthy of your time and support. Hex Morbidity hark back to earlier times with evocative, old-school black metal on their self-titled EP. Draghkar spew forth cavernous, morbid death-doom metal, and Disincarnation wield aggressive, surprisingly melodic death metal in the vein of At the Gates. Read on for links and more! Continue reading “Demo Roundup vol. 1 (Hex Morbidity, Dragkhar, Disincarnation)”

Martröð – “Transmutation of Wounds”

Martröð is the collaborative project of an international group of musicians united by their shared musical and ideological goals. Featuring Wrest (of Leviathan), D.G. (of Misþyrming), Alex Poole (of Krieg), and others, their pedigree is impressive, but their music ought to stand by itself, and with such an incredible line-up it’s only natural that expectations are high. Thankfully, those expectations have been met, and Martröð really have crafted a very special release with ‘Transformation of Wounds’.

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Leviathan – Scar Sighted

Leviathan is the one-man black metal project of the controversial California-based multi-instrumentalist, tattooist Jef Whitehead, a.k.a. ‘Wrest’. Wrest made a name for himself with Leviathan’s early music which channelled the depressive suicidal black metal spirit better than almost any of his contemporaries, and 2003’s ‘The Tenth Sub-Level of Suicide’ remains a classic within that subgenre. But as time moved on Wrest began to incorporate many more influences and styles into Leviathan’s music, culminating in 2008’s ‘Massive Conspiracy Against All Life’, to date (in my view) one of the best albums in the entire black metal genre. I remember listening to the album through my earphones on a long, late walk back from town and this album absolutely engulfed me. It grabs you and pulls you in in a deeply unsettling but gripping way with weird, psychedelic melodies and distorted riffs as well as long, progressive song structures.

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Revocation – Deathless

Deathless is the fifth full-length album from the Boston-based metal band Revocation, recently signed to Metal Blade Records. Revocation play an interesting blend of technical death metal and thrash metal not entirely unlike bands such as the British band Sylosis. While in the past Revocation have placed a lot of emphasis on technicality and a kind of controlled chaos, Deathless sees the band shift emphasis towards a much darker, heavier, and more focused sound.

Deathless is by far the heaviest and darkest album that Revocation have released to date. There’s a far greater emphasis on atmosphere here, with guitarists Dave and Dan taking their undoubted technical skill and applying it in a more focused way.  The down-tuned guitars shed unnecessary technicality in favour of creating a more cohesive sound with songs that flow more naturally with a more clearly defined sense of where they’re going. To be clear, the riffs are still incredibly technical, it just feels like they did a better job of writing ones that work together better. And the guitar solos are better than ever before, which is saying a lot considering how phenomenal Dave’s solos have been in the past. And the production is better than ever before. On previous albums the production has led to a slightly sterile sound, which isn’t great when you’re playing super-technical death metal. Here the music is allowed room to breathe more naturally, enhancing all aspects of their sound here.

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Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails

Very few metal albums have been hyped as much as Fallujah’s second full length album ‘The Flesh Prevails’ has. Though their first album put them on the map as one of better deathcore bands, blending technical death metal and progressive metal elements together, it was their Nomadic EP in 2013 that really made this a band to watch out for: ambient, heavy, and progressive all at once, the EP significantly raised people’s expectations for his band, though its short tracklist left us wanting more. So the question is: Does The Flesh Prevails live up to that hype?

In one word: yes. It absolutely does. On The Flesh Prevails, Fallujah take that deeply atmospheric and progressive death metal sound they began to really explore on Nomadic and really make it their own. There’s an even greater sense of atmosphere, but where Nomadic was dark and murky, The Flesh Prevails is ethereal and even upbeat. Of course, this is ultimately death metal so when I say upbeat take it in that context! There’s a great sense of contrast created between the ambiance and atmosphere created by the guitars and other instruments and the vocals; low, guttural, death metal roars keep The Flesh Prevails from floating away completely and keep it grounded.

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Rivers of Nihil – The Conscious Seed of Light

Rivers of Nihil’s debut album ‘The Conscious Seed of Light’ was actually released on Metal Blade back in October 2013. That means I’m pretty late with reviewing this album, but this album has impressed me so much that I feel I need to share it with you. If The Faceless and Fit for an Autopsy had a baby, this band would be it. Rivers of Nihil take a technical approach to death metal that is thoroughly brutal while also trying their hand at a bit of melody and ambiance, largely created by the two guitarists, as well as a nice sprinkling of black metal. I’ll be brief so you can just go and listen to the album straight away.

The twin guitars are at times pummeling, in the opening track ‘Rain Eater’ acting as an auditory jackhammer, drilling away at your eardrums with absolute ferocity, while at others such as on ‘Mechanical Trees’ where they play with the contrast between a down-tuned background chugging and ambient post-rock moments. The riffs come thick and fast, with the only problem being that there are so many riffs that I’m not sure which one I like the most! The drums compliment the guitars as an equally varied instrument, moving with ease between mid-tempo rhythms, to blastbeats, and other complicated, fast-paced arrangements. The vocals have a slightly deathcore edge to them but remain varied, with deep gutturals and powerful mids, while on some parts of ‘Place of Serpents’ they’re more hardcore. The vocals may be the only point on which Rivers of Nihil may divide opinion, as they’re not your usual death metal gutturals.

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