A Blaze in the Southern Sky:
Overdue for a Metal Review

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A Blaze In the Southern Sky logo

Dropped by Robert Miller

I’ve been a lazy metal head lately, to say the least. 2012 has shaped up to be a prolific year for music, both good and bad. Recently, we’ve seen coverage here for two highly-acclaimed, hardcore-leaning albums: Converge’s All We Love We Leave Behind and Devalued’s Plagues (a native South Florida release!). But there have been quite a few others that have sadly passed under our radar lately, and that’s just not good.

When you’re a one-man army trying to run a metal column in a largely un-metal publication, music seems to generally be working against you rather than with you. Sometimes, a little catch up is necessary in the horde of releases to sift through. Similar to how The Dropp has “Overdue for Review” articles where we try to catch up on the releases we’ve missed out on, here is my version of that for “A Blaze in the Southern Sky.”

Let me note that all of these are worth looking into if you have the time, regardless of my (relatively) arbitrary score, so give them a listen no matter what. Each release is worthy of its own reckoning. It’s always an adventure discovering new music, and this year I definitely had quite a few “firsts,” such as with Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s dastardly psychedelic Horseback or the cold-as-death black metal Californians Ash Borer. Discovering should always be a joy, even with something as glaringly sinister as metal. Yeah! Of course I can have fun listening to angry music! What of it?

Now, onto the albums I was too caught up dancing to Grizzly Bear’s Shields or Animal Collective’s Centipede Hz to get all angry and cathartic-y about.

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ASH BORER: COLD OF AGES

Ash Borer - Cold of Ages cover




     
          Profound Lore // 2012
         




Music from this album

If one thing is clear about Ash Borer’s tinge of black metal, it is the winding pace. From the deep dread of doom and drone coalesced into the burning fire of black metal speed, Ash Borer cultivate a rarely heard phenomena in the somewhat popularized genre. As far as U.S. black metal is concerned, many bands—from Wolves in the Throne Room, to Altar of Plagues, to the polarizing fellow Californians Deafheaven—have often taken the sometimes vast strokes of post-rock and drone and inter-played it with the blast-beat stricken onslaught of black metal. Ash Borer find their own balance, though, in this four-track album, breaching over an hour of run time. It’s a stretching and daunting task to overcome, but the ascending action of songs like “Phantoms” leading into the thick doom of “Convict All Flesh”‘s opening is a rewarding trek.

By the time the utterly haunting “Removed Forms” closes out Cold of Ages, it’s as though you have overcome some sort of adversity. It’s almost too easy to make some sort of play about the word “cold” and the sort of wintry aesthetic Cold of Ages brings to the USBM table, but it’s simply not that bad of an analogy at all. The freezing dark mood that pervades this album isn’t always inviting, but it’s simply and utterly Ash Borer’s, and that is a feat in and of itself.

BLUT AUS NORD: 777 – COSMOSOPHY

Blut Aus Nord - 777 Cosmosophy cover




     
          Debemur Morti // 2012
         




Music from this album

French avant-garde black metalists, Blut Aus Nord, announced barely even two years ago that they would be releasing three albums as a cohesive trilogy in a relatively short amount of time. Most fans were skeptical, and for good reasons. How do you fill such a substantial amount of material in such a short amount of time? Critics and skeptics were largely quenched right from the get-go with 777: Sect(s) in early 2011. Since that release and the late 2011 follow-up 777: The Desanctification, the band has further propelled itself into stranger and stranger territory with the grand finale, 777: Cosmosophy.

Blut Aus Nord have almost always carried a heavy weight to their music—thick fuzzing feedback, elevating guitar work, choruses of screams and choirs, and now, even more dark electronic drums and industrial work. Cosmosophy even takes the band into a gothic realm, that isn’t too far away from black metal’s grim roots, yet somehow acts as a stylistic offshoot, almost like meandering. At times, frontman Vindsval’s voice reaches a melodic and almost beautiful ring, and then songs like “Epitome XVII” showcase that his ability to switch into callous growling and inhuman uttering after a gurgling interlude halfway through the song. The band seems fully capable of switching between styles, sounds and overall attitudes like it’s an actual light switch. The beauty of Blut Aus Nord through all of the nefarious reverberating echoes of their sound is their diligence to continually experiment, and to never stop searching for the new sound they’re looking for. 777: Cosmosopy is the culmination of that search—at least within this trilogy—and it’s enlightening, bordering on not even being metal at all, or at least not a metal trope. Instead, it’s an event all in itself.

BOSSE-DE-NAGE: III

Bosse-de-Nage - iii cover




     
          Profound Lore // 2012
         




Music from this album

Bosse-de-Nage’s original album, ii, on Flenser Records featured a red, white and black geometric pattern on the cover with the band’s name in straight, clear font—all in all, a very un-black metal aesthetic. But they were one of those “experimental” black metal bands that didn’t seem to really care in the first place, one that mixed black metal with post-rock like it was a brand new concept (see Wolves in the Throne Room, Deafheaven, Panopticon and so many others). Now, I’m not trying to put down their first release by any means, but I think if you’re going to walk into this well-versed territory of post-black metal, you’ve got to cultivate your own identity, and it may just take a couple albums or so to get there.

Now on the ever-expanding Profound Lore label, Bosse-de-Nage’s follow-up, III, is a solid example of what happens when a band chooses to not restrict themselves to a solitary genre. From the formulaic black metal opening of “The Arborist,” to “The God Ennui”‘s beautiful post-rock build up, to the almost screamo “Desuetude” chaos, the album maddeningly races between slow and fast like schizophrenia, fully believing it embodies both. III is at times a little disjointed and dizzying, such as on the drone-y “Perceive There a Silence,” but it ultimately makes up for it with the clash and clang of a band that has more thoroughly embraced its depths. When the spoken-word of the final track “An Ideal Ledge” begins by saying, “There is a ledge somewhere / Set against a deadly precipice / Which Spring’s nostalgic winds never reach,” it’s as if Bosse-de-Nage are preparing you for a wholly dangerous finale. And even though the line is quick and hardly lasts a few seconds, the caustic song that follows is an expansive effort that swells against the explosiveness of the rest of the album that came before. Bosse-de-Nage strip themselves down of unnecessary frills and give the bare bones and all that is necessary to swallow you up in the moment.

GAZA: No ABSOLUTES IN HUMAN SUFFERING

Gaza - No Absolutes in Human Suffering cover




     
          Black Market Activities // 2012
         




Music from this album

“Mostly Hair and Bones Now,” the opening track to Gaza’s third full-length album, No Absolutes in Human Suffering, is a terrifying name. All I can picture is a frail human being with strands of hair in patches where it should be more full. And that’s kind of how Salt Lake City’s Gaza leaves me feeling by the end of their album (emotionally; not physically, thankfully). With a grindcore mentality and an oft sludge metal edge, No Absolutes in Human Suffering pulverizes the living hell out of its timid listeners.

Produced by Kurt Ballou of Converge, you can feel the devastating rip of noise erupting from this album. Much like Pig Destroyer’s Book Burner from this year, the attitude of Gaza is one of sheer animosity. To say that vocalist Jon Parkin is angry when he bellows with all his might throughout this album is ultimately redundant. And Gaza’s album isn’t even directing this anger toward any outside entity; it’s directed straight at you, the listener. “The dirt stained you, dissolved you, eroded you, revealed you,” Parkin’s screams on “Not With All the Hope in the World.” “You couldn’t escape that. Not with your faith. Not with all the hope in the world.” The band often seems to attack faith and hope, and one could take that as a very cynical approach (and it probably is), but I’d bet that a careful listener would take away a message of curiosity and skepticism. No matter what it is, Gaza don’t want you to continue down the path of mindless repetition. With all of the ferocity of distorted breakdowns and deranged cries, they push their message out like their knee to your gut. It may lack subtlety, it may not revel in much else other than full-force aggression, but that could be the wake-up call some of us need. “It’s the same noise every day,” the final track, “Routine and Then Death,” goes. “We walk back and forth.” Now, go with that and do what you will.

HORSEBACK: HALF BLOOD

Horseback - Half Blood cover




     
          Relapse // 2012
         




Music from this album

Relapse Records is a very odd record label. From the electronic chaos of Genghis Tron, to grindcore’s speedy Weekend Nachos, and the slower sludge of Rwake, they seem to cover a fair amount of ground. Horseback’s Half Blood took me by surprise right from the start with “Mithras” a blues-y track with a heavy bass line and a simple yet strong drum beat, overlaid with some of the most demonic spoken-word vocals I’ve heard in some time. It was like listening to Satan himself speak over Muddy Waters.

“Inheritance (The Changeling)” destroys all expectations further with it’s machine-gun electronics and organ like keyboards in an enlightening drone instrumental track. The album ends on a trilogy (“Hallucigenia I: Hermetic Gifts,” “Hellucigenia II: Spiritual Jerk” and “Hallucigenia III: The Emerald Tablet”), which all play up to Horsebacks’ more varied sub-genres, such as noise rock and doom. As “The Emerald Tablet” continues with fuzzy feedback and occasional well-placed piano accents, it’s like a drowning affair. For a metal release that will shock you and throw you more curve balls than you may ever see coming, Horseback have a release just for you.

INDESINENCE: VESSELS OF LIGHT AND DECAY

Indesinence - Vessels of Light and Decay cover




     
          Profound Lore // 2012
         




“Flux” opens Londoners Indesinence’s sophomore record, Vessels of Light and Decay, on a dramatic whir and a chorus of chamber vocals, as if it was the soundtrack to an epic fantasy film. One could argue the triviality of trying to sound dramatic for the sake of dramatic tension, but this Profound Lore release had an effective way of pulling me into the fray from the beginning and only rarely letting go for an excursion once in a while.

As “Paradigms” continues on with a heavy metal opening and eventually a smart chemical mixture of death and doom, the album is filled with power and integrity. Like gnashing teeth and boiling rage, “Communion” is a track made for high stamina as the growling death metal vocals become agonizing cries. And “Fading (Further Beyond)” brings endless double bass and ringing dissonance to the foreground in a death-doom track that lives up to its ostentatious 14-minute length and billowing cadence. As the album ends on its somewhat mellower closer “Unveiled,” Indesinence prove their command of an atmosphere. It’s powerful, persuasive and altogether foundational.

PIG DESTROYER: BOOK BURNER

Pig Destroyer - Book Burner cover




     
          Relapse // 2012
         




Music from this album

Pig Destroyer isn’t for the calm, the weak, or the impressionable. If you know a fraction of their gruesome, frenzied grindcore-wasted discography then you already have a fraction of an idea of what you’re getting into: minute-long songs with the type of ferocity that could only come from a truly troubled mind (AKA, frontman J.R. Hayes). Hayes’ vocals are panicked and hostile, Scott Hull’s guitar work is less leads and more powerful rhythm honers, and Adam Jarvis’ drumming is a consistently confounding example of paranoia. While most metal bands replicate the general attitude of the genre, this quintet becomes it.

This is the Richmond, Virginia band’s fifth full-length album and it follows a lengthy five-year gap from the band’s previous one, but it hits full force and leaves nothing behind. By the time you get to the four-minute closer “Permanent Funeral” (which is a “behemoth” track by all Pig Destroyer standards), you may realize that you just witnessed the most terrifying recorded experience of your life yet; and that’s perfectly fine. There’s no need to rush into a band like this just because a friend told you to (adamantly or not). So I’m not here to tell you that you’re not living life until you’re getting neck-deep in Book Burner, but if you think it just might be your bloodied bag of tea, then by all means, indulge yourself on one of the best grindcore albums this year.

WINTERFYLLETH: THE THRENODY OF TRIUMPH

Winterfylleth - The Threnody of Triumph cover




     
          Candlelight // 2012
         




Music from this album

Candlelight Records, distributed by the large EMI label, isn’t necessarily small-time business when it comes to metal. Boasting a long list of notable acts from Emperor, to Obituary, to Absu and 1349, Candlelight have something of an advantage on the game. When I heard about Winterfylleth’s third full-length album, The Threnody of Triumph, it was the first time I’d had a chance to dive into them.

From their original inception around 2007, the band fully took on a style of black metal that—to be frank—isn’t too uncommon today. From bolstering blast beats and victorious progressions, Winterfylleth may carry the grim cathartic cries of black metal, but all of the glorious walls of noise that come with other metal acts like Fen and Ludicra. The band claims themselves as English Heritage Black Metal (EHBM), giving a spotlight to England’s more historic stories and honoring. It’s a very neat concept (similar to Autolatry‘s efforts to honor New England), and from the pastoral landscapes that decorate their albums, it could be the journey of an avid concept-album lover’s dream. It’s another record worthy of your undivided attention and exploration. Although, quite a few songs tended to blend together in what was already an innocuously droning affair, but it is sometimes broken up by the occasional left-field pace changer or game changer—just enough to keep the bucolic black metal pacing exciting enough.

Sat Dec 1

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