Staff Album Picks Of 2019

Recommendations By Rebecca

Artist: Arnaut Pavle | Album: Arnaut Pavle

Formed in Finland during 2012, Arnaut Pavle do not have an extensive repertoire, yet their few works are powerful enough to stand on their own, even with a six year gap in between. Lovingly compared to the likes of Darkthrone and Craft, Arnaut Pavle seamlessly weave speedy, punkish elements throughout this self titled full length album – coming in at just under half an hour. Specific elements of both their online presence and formation are left vague, giving them an additional dash of ambiguity that can not be ignored.

Mysterious contributors aside, some skeptics may ponder the difference between this release versus their 2013 demo – and it is minimal. Arnaut Pavle‘s focus may be on perfection versus evolution, which depending upon your preference, is the least of your worries. If you find yourself longing for the days of old, raw, thrashy black metal, Arnaut Pavle will fit nicely into your music reserve. This album along with their, also self titled, demo can be found through label Mystískaos.

Recommended Songs: Unholy Black Balsam, Crematory Gates, For the Darkness of Our Hearts

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Artist: Barshasketh | Album: Barshasketh

Originally formed as a solo project by Krigeist in Wellington, New Zealand, Barshasketh have since relocated to Edinburgh, Scotland and rounded out a complete lineup. Since their formation in 2007, they have released four full length albums, their latest, self titled “Barshasketh,” in January of 2019. Barshasketh‘s intention is to “create pure black metal, intentionally free of genre cross-pollination: essentially, second-wave black metal re-imagined and reinterpreted through extensive use of layering and counterpoint.” And they do just that.

Teaming up with infamous Necromorbus Studio (Watain, Mayhem, Shining) in Stockholm, Sweden for recording, mixing, mastering and production, both their third full length album “Ophidian Henosis” and this fourth self titled album “Barshasketh” were released by World Terror Committee Productions, proving a “milestone in the history of the band.”

Barshasketh recently performed at SteelChaos 2019 in Helsinki, Finland and needless to say, they were the one band that were etched in memory. Not only can they deliver on record, their live performance was even tighter – compelling, inspiring and authentic. I anticipate Barshasketh to continue their ascent to greatness and urge you to take the time to discover their discography, demos and all. If you find yourself with the opportunity to catch them live, do so. Without question.

Recommended Songs: Resolve, Rebirth, Ruin I

Follow Barshasketh on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify

Recommendations By Pelle

Artist: Myronath | Album: Into The Qliphoth

Myronath, hailing from the northern parts of Sweden, did what most bands do – they first released a single before releasing the full album and when I was presented the single “La Santa Muerte” by Hellcommander Vargblod (bass, vocals) it blew me away with its hunger and a new take on the old melodic black metal theme. When the album was released, it was no disappointment. The songwriting and arrangements are good, the songs heavy and the vocals are grim and recorded with a “crispiness” that give the songs an extra dimension. This is a very dark and atmospheric album, covering the subjects of the Left-Hand Path and occultism. When a debut album sounds this good, I can’t wait to hear what they will do next. The album is great, but it is still the first single that is my absolute favorite track and actually made the number 1 of my most played songs on Spotify 2019.

Follow Myronath on:

Facebook | Spotify

Artist: Mephorash | Album: Shem Ha Mephorash

This is the fourth release from Swedish black metal band Mephorash. “Shem Ha Mephorash,” which meaning is “the explicit name” in Jewish mysticism, centers around exactly that – mysticism. The whole album is like a long ritual and I absolutely love it. The shortest song is about 6:30 and the longest one clocks in on just over 15 minutes, which gives plenty of room for the band to be creative which they have. Some songs are slower, like “Sanguinem,” others are faster. But just because a song is a bit slower it doesn’t mean that isn’t heavy as fuck. Haunting melodic guitars, powerful vocals, sometimes mixed with a beautiful, clean female voice make this song and album an absolute killer.

Another favorite song is “777: The Third Woe” which begins with trumpets which shows the complexity and ingenuity this album and band possesses. 

All of the above combined make me chose this release as my album of the year.

Follow Mephorash on:

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Recommendations By Armando

Artist: Kampfar | Album: Ofidians Manifest

After a hiatus of a year due to several reasons, the black metal force that is Kampfar returned to the live scene and they returned with force. A modern lesson in what “True Norwegian Black Metal” means nowadays. Amongst so many bands trying to nail this sound, now regarded as a classic, Kampfar managed to rejuvenate it and take it to the next level.

Picking up where their last album “Profan” left off, the newest addition to the ever-growing legacy was named “Ofidans Manifest,” in reference to the madness that the album itself encompasses. This however stands out even more than the previous offering due to the sheer emotion the tracks manage to convey upon the listeners.

From brilliant semi-clean singing on “Det Sorte” to bone-chilling choruses on “Ophidian,” even a daring  duet on “Dominanswith the Norwegian band Djerv’s Agnete Kjølsrud. This record ticks all the boxes of fans of old school Norwegian black metal as envisioned by musicians back in the nineties. But it also shows that black metal is alive and kicking harder than it ever has!

Follow Kampfar on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Instagram | Soundcloud | Spotify | Twitter

Artist: Imha Tarikat | Album: Kara Ihlas

What would it sound like when Polish black metal masters MGŁA had a love baby with Canada’s war metal monsters Revenge and that concoction would spawn forth a record that was well produced but chaotic in its very nature? The result would be Imha Tarikat’s first full length offering “Kara Ihlas.”

A young band in a scene that has its roots firmly positioned in the late eighties and early nineties, where tradition seems to be law and where newcomers are looked upon as less important than the old stalwarts. How does one stand out in such a environment? Exactly by doing what Imha Tarikat does, playing extremely aggressive and fast black metal with brilliant variety in chaos and melody.

Imha Tarikat is a band that should be looked out for, they are already paving the way to greatness for themselves and it shows. They had the great honor and behemoth of a task of opening for the black metal titans of Watain at this year’s prestigious Beyond The Gates festival in Bergen, Norway which they did with flying colors. Be wary of Imha Tarikat and surely pay attention to their next move!

Follow Imha Tarikat on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | YouTube

Artist: Schammasch | Album: Hearts Of No Light

The latest offering from Switzerland’s Schammasch is not just an avant-garde black metal record, it is an assault on the senses of the listener. Where the last album “Triangle” still could be considered as a somewhat traditional approach to the extreme music that is black metal, the new “Hearts Of No Light” rebels against all restrictions and forcefully shows what madness sounds like when it is poured into some of the best music this decade has offered us.

The biggest shock on this album is probably “A Paradigm Of Beauty,” brilliant in it’s execution but everything except what the listener is expecting. Offering a view of many facets of extreme metal but sometimes also touching on prog-metal makes sure that “Hearts Of No Light” never gets boring. It’s impossible for the listener to know what is next because expectations are constantly denied by introducing complex new passages in the music.

Schammasch has once again, as the band did before, shown that they truly belong to the new wave of European bands that will lift black metal out of the strangling restrictions in order to create a new sound. A sound that will be heard around the world, this new sound is ushered in their latest offering “Hearts Of No Light.” Now go, set aside your convictions about what black metal should be, and hear what black metal could be!

Follow Schammasch on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Instagram | Soundcloud | Spotify | YouTube

Recommendations By Nicholas

Artist: Borknagar | Album: True North

One of the most vibrant, restless bastions of prog-infused blackened metal might, Borknagar once again knock it out of the park with the majestic “True North.” Replete with mountain-peak choruses from the unrivaled vocal tandem of ICS Vortex and Lars Nedland, these Norwegians have been riding a creative high over the course of their last clutch of albums. Never overly complex, band founder Øystein Brun manages to layer every song with emotion and depth, yet still create a diverse and endlessly rewarding listen. According to this scribe, there was no finer album released in calendar year 2019.

Recommended Songs: True North, Lights, Tidal, Voices

Follow Borknagar on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Instagram | Spotify | Twitter | YouTube

Artist: The Meads Of Asphodel | Album: Running Out Of Time Doing Nothing

Always criminally underrated, English punk black metal outliers The Meads Of Asphodel have once more created a madcap palette of sounds that when listed separately, seem like they would want nothing to do with each other. Black metal, punk, traditional metal, show tune vocal arrangements, soundtrack psychedelia, lounge piano, female vocals, pop and dance beats – when considered apart these elements might seem insuperable, but when focused through the lens of Metatron and company, what you have is a magnificently cohesive album like nothing else you will hear in 2019. Scathing social commentary, rebellious English attitude and a stubborn lack of adherence to genre expectations; put it all together and you have one of the finest releases of 2019.

Recommended Songs: I’m Running Out of Time Doing Nothing, Cockroach Marionettes, Like Blood Shaped Flakes of Snow, The Broken Wings of a Hud-Hud

Follow The Meads Of Asphodel on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Spotify | YouTube

Artist: Mayhem | Album: Daemon

There are probably a lot of people out there who didn’t think they had it in them, but the promises of a stable and hungry Mayhem lineup have come to rotten fruition on new album “Daemon.” Stylistically a worthy follow up to the peerless classic “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” this new slab of darkness is bolstered by the stygian otherness of Attila Csihar’s throat and a marked return to the unrestrained malice of yore. Hellhammer’s drums thunder in cavernous splendor and each song keeps the boot firmly on the listener’s neck. The riffs are straight black metal, no frills, no filler. Just turn it up to eleven and burn your local church.

Recommended Songs: Malum, Falsified and Hated, Worthless Abominations Destroyed, Black Glass Communion

Follow Mayhem on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Instagram | Soundcloud | Spotify | Twitter | YouTube

Recommendations By Geoff

Artist: Deathspell Omega | Album: The Furnaces Of Palingenesia

Chaotic. Dark. Contemptuous. The same words can apply to each insidious Deathspell Omega album. The French black metal carved out their niche over a decade ago, and each new release is instantly recognizable as theirs. With their seventh full-length album, Deathspell Omega continues to meet the high bar they’ve set for themselves. “The Furnaces Of Palingenesia” is a little more straightforward compared to the dense layers of earlier albums, with added warmth from analog recording gear. Gone are the 10-minute epics from “Kenose” and “Fas Ite;” the longest song here is 5 and a half minutes. The album is something new while remaining true to the trademark Deathspell Omega sound. This won’t disappoint old fans. For those new to the band, their rumbling avant-garde style might take some getting used to.

Recommended Songs: The Fires of Frustration, Ad Arma! Ad Arma!

Follow Deathspell Omega on:

Bandcamp | Spotify

Artist: Drofnosura | Album: Voidfever

Voidfever” has a bleakness few bands would dare to match. If one described this album in a single phrase, it’d be “existential dread.” The album is likely best classified as sludge, although it uses elements from metal’s darkest genres so things aren’t clear-cut. Eye-popping album art shows what people are getting. It’s less about categories than atmosphere. “False Womb” is the least metal song with strong ambient and post-rock influences. Continuing this, the final track “Voidfever” is a calm slow burn for 10 minutes, until the metal returns for the final third of the song. Drofnosura could’ve gone harder in the final minutes, but it’s fine. What’s most impressive overall is that it’s a debut. “Voidfever” is a surprisingly polished effort from a band who knows what their sound evokes. They took their time to get things right. It’s a shame this flew under the radar and only a handful of reviewers took on the album.

Recommended Songs: Tower of Waves, Panzón de Borrego

Follow Drofnosura on:

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Recommendations By Nikki

Artist: Obsequiae | Album: The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings

20 Buck Spin has been a roll lately, with many good releases in 2019. One of such is “The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings” by Minnesota’s Obsequiae. Formerly Autumnal Winds, Obsequiae plays a unique style of medieval black metal filled with melodies that would not be out of place at your local renaissance fair. “The Palms Of Sorrowed Kings” features 12 tracks, 5 of which being instrumental interludes that take you into the halls of kings and queens, while the other tracks take you to war defending them on your sword. But that’s not the best thing about this album. Obsequiae decided to release the album only digitally with all proceeds going to Doctors Without Borders and what’s cooler than listening to metal and supporting a great cause?

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Artist: Véhémence | Album: Par Le Sang Versé

Hailing from Angers, France, Véhémence puts a unique spell on a tried genre who has seen it all. At first glance, the cover art reminds the listener of days of yore, a tapestry of French history. Eight tracks full of hymns of wars, of battle and the ideals that shaped France are lovingly woven into “Par Le Sang Versé,” the second album by Véhémence.

Follow Véhémence on:

Bandcamp | Facebook

Artist: Hanging Garden | Album: Into That Good Night

Into that good night and into a trip of Finnish melancholy and despair. With the follow up to 2017’s “I Am Become,Hanging Garden has emerged as one of the best in melodic doom/death metal. Featuring clean and smooth vocals from Riikka Hatakka and majestic growls from Tomi Toivonen, “Into That Good Night” is a lovely blend of sorrow, doom, post-rock and melody.

Follow Hanging Garden on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Instagram | Soundcloud | Spotify | Twitter

Recommendations By Crystal

Artist: Andavald | Album: Undir Skyggðarhaldi

This was the debut release from Iceland’s Andavald. This album is a  modern take on black metal and is a good representation of where outlying music genres are headed. Atmospheric and dissonant, recommended for fans of Leviathan and Craft.

Follow Andavald on:

Bandcamp | Instagram | Website

Artist: Vothana | Album: Không Bao Giờ Nộp / Never To Submit

From the band Vothana, which has no participation in any sort of online social media. Many black metal bands cover war history, but none other come to mind when it comes to Vietnam. It is wonderful to still hear such raw aggression being carried out today in such a unique way while still holding roots in the genre’s origins. Dark and foreboding, just like war itself.

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Metal Archives

Artist: Misþyrming | Album: Algleymi

Another band that is fairly new to black metal is Misþyrming, which I had high hopes for their follow up after their first release in 2015. Another stronghold for keeping the genre alive, I would rank among MGŁA and UADA. All elements of this album blend together for a nice atmosphere, and production is just right for the listening experience. This album does not push limits too far in experimentation, but manages to be a welcome familiarity that does not get boring after being on heavy rotation.

Follow Misþyrming on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Spotify

Recommendations By Danny

Artist: Kaleikr | Album: Heart Of Lead

Kaleikr are an Icelandic black metal band with emotionally driven dissonant riffs and plenty of hauntingly dark and atmospheric moments. This is an awesome debut with high replay value from this two-piece duo.

Follow Kaleikr on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Spotify

Artist: Vukari | Album: Aevum

Aggressive and relentless yet beautifully constructed Vukari combines black metal with some sick vocals, drumming and atmosphere.  Well done to this 4-piece based out of Chicago!

Follow Vukari on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Soundcloud | Spotify | YouTube

Artists: Skáphe / Wormlust | Album: Kosmískur Hryllingur

I always enjoy when bands collaborate on a project to experiment. You never know what to expect but these two well respected Icelandic black metal bands definitely delivered. This album is a pummeling yet trippy ride, so buckle up.

Follow Skáphe on:

Bandcamp | Facebook

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Artist: Numenorean | Album: Adore

Numenorean are a black gaze/post-black Canadian based band, dishing out this sophomore release which delivers some very well executed build-ups leading to tasty payoffs within tracks. 

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Artist: Aoratos | Album: Gods Without Names

Naas Alcameth of Nightbringer and Akhlys returns in the form of Aoratos to deliver this amazingly dissonant and sinister project. Do not pass up on this crushing and relentless black metal release. 

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Recommendations By Justina

Artist: Ossuarium | Album: Living Tomb

Straight out of Portland, Oregon, Ossuarium formed in 2016. They released their first demo November 6, 2016 titled “Calcified Trophies Of Violence” on an independent label and cassette.  Followed by a split album with Draghkar in 2018, their debut album titled “Living Tomb,” was released this year in February 2019 via 20 Buck Spin Records.  Ossuarium are part of the new wave of old school death metal bands and are often compared to Autopsy, Tomb Mold, Incantation and Coffins.

Living Tomb” is a powerful album that brings the old school riffs to the listeners ears, but also has that new wave punch to it. I highly recommend this album to anyone who loves the old school sound. Ossuarium’s blend of death and doom metal leans more towards the old-school death metal crowd. The atmosphere leaves you wanting to hear more from these guys after the last note ends. 

Recommended Songs: Corrosive Hallucinations, End of Life Dreams and Visions Pt. 2, Blaze of Bodies

Follow Ossuarium on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram

Artist: Paganizer | Album: The Tower Of The Morbid

Rogga Johansson is the mastermind behind many bands. Some of them include Down Among The Dead Men, MegaScavenger, Revolting, Ribspreader and The Grotesquery. But his main and most well known band Paganizer released a mammoth of a album this year in October. “The Tower Of The Morbid” features Matthias Feiberg (Blodsrit/Portal) on drums, Martin Klasen on bass, Kjetil Lynghaug on guitars and Mr. Rogga Johansson himself on guitars and vocals and was released on Transcending Death Records. The last few releases from Paganizer have been stellar, but this one stands out to me as one of the best this year and one of the best in Roggas career yet. Keeping that classic HM2 guitar sound, while keeping that deathrasy vibes at the same time. The riffs do not stop and keep chugging at you.

Recommended Songs: Cannibal Remains, The Tower of the Morbid, Flesh Tornado

Follow Paganizer on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Spotify

Recommendations By Thomas

Artist: Entrails | Album: Rise Of The Reaper

Formed in 1990 in Sweden, Entrails continue to serve awesome dirty, grunting noise without mercy. I really can’t get enough of it!

Follow Entrails on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Spotify | YouTube

Artist: Cattle Decapitation | Album: Death Atlas

I love the verity of the United States based Cattle Decapitation. They are excellent musicians! Together they deliver a real punch. It is speed with a great twist. I can’t pick out any favorites – I like the whole damn thing!

Follow Cattle Decapitation on:

Bandcamp | Facebook | Website | Instagram | Spotify | Twitter | YouTube

Artist: Rotting Christ | Album: The Heretics

This chanting take on black metal by Rotting Christ is absolute brilliance.

Recommended Songs: I Believe, Vetry Zlye

Follow Rotting Christ on:

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CANIS DIRUS – Perseverance Of The Wolf

As the years decay it becomes more and more apparent that although ferocious black metal may have arisen in the icy north of Europe, it has indeed ripened in other locales. Consider the two-man battery that is Canis Dirus. Hailing from Minnesota, a region of the United States akin to any and all northern winter-scapes, the partnership of Todd Paulson (all instruments) and Rob Hames (vocals) bears fruit once more with their first studio album in eight years. Independence to the Beast, set for release in March of 2020 via the peerless Bindrune Recordings label, looks to not only reaffirm the foothold Canis Dirus has on the American black metal frontier, but as the all-important third album, it seeks to take the band to the next level.

Recently, Descension Promotions was treated to an exclusive first look at the sonic achievement that is Independence to the Beast, along with an opportunity to convene with the earnest and humble Paulson for a deeper analysis of his art. The first and most obvious topic to be discussed was the long time between creations. Canis Dirus bestowed their first two albums in 2009 and 2012, respectively, building some momentum and helping make a name for themselves. Just as American black metal was enjoying notoriety from the likes of a burgeoning crop of bands, the progress of the band would be forced to a complete halt.

A silence lasting more than half a decade was the last thing Paulson, Hames, and their fans were expecting. As it turns out, Paulson would be facing the biggest, most heart wrenching challenge of his life. What was it exactly that caused this driven artist to abandon his pursuits, and how did he know it was time to return to Canis Dirus?

“Seven years, well eight technically, since the new album is scheduled for release in March of 2020. In order to properly answer that question,” he elaborates. “We will need to go back to 2012, when our last album for Moribund Records, Anden Om Norr, was released. About two or three months later, my first son was born. He was about six weeks premature, and my wife had a horrible pregnancy and birth. Needless to say we didn’t get to take him home with us. He had a long hospital stay, since he needed to grow his lungs and build up endurance to be able to breastfeed. Well, he wasn’t thriving as we had hoped, and the doctors were pretty baffled. When we finally did get to take him home, he was still a little sick. They had given us meds that they thought would help, but he still struggled to eat, keep down food, and ultimately grow.

“One afternoon when he was roughly three months old, I had given him a bottle and when he finally struggled through finishing that, he literally stopped breathing and turned blue in my arms. It was devastating. He began to start breathing again, but we rushed him into the trauma bay of the hospital. There he quit breathing again and had to be intubated. That is when they placed my son on full life support. My wife and I stood by helplessly as about ten doctors and nurses worked on him to keep him alive.

“We were confused, to say the least, but even worse, so were the doctors. They took a blood sugar reading and it was a seven. They thought the machine was broken, but after a retest his glucose reading still showed seven! Scary fucking shit, man, as this was the lowest such reading recorded on any living patient at that facility.

“Everything just shut down. He was in full liver and kidney failure. Heart failure. Couldn’t maintain his blood sugar levels. He was in hypothermia. Remember, at this time the kid was only three months old. So, without doing into a ton more detail, I’ll say that he was finally diagnosed with an extremely rare congenital condition called panhypopituitarism. It’s a condition where a person is born without a pituitary gland. It apparently only happens in one in every 450,000 live births. Without a pituitary gland, my son could not produce the proper hormones, particularly cortisol, that he needs to survive. At 3 months old, he had contracted a simple chest cold, but because of the lack of cortisol, his body began to shut down.

“I know this is a lot to take in but believe me that was just setting the table for what was to come. In the interest of trying to be brief, I’ll say that for whatever reason, the PHP wasn’t the only congenital condition that he ended up with. Over the course of the next six years, it was pretty much one diagnosis after the next. It got to the point where we were afraid to take him to his doctor appointments for fear of finding something else out.

“As you can probably imagine, I endured a whole host of mental trauma dealing with my son’s fragile health. When he was about a year old, I simply put all of my guitars in their cases and put away all of my gear. Six years passed and I never picked up an instrument. Never had any desire. Life was just way too much to deal with and all of these emotions, such as grief, anger, fear, confusion, resentment, rage, et cetera, were taking a huge toll on me and they started to manifest themselves in some extremely destructive ways.

“During this time, Rob (Hames) and I would briefly talk about the future, or perhaps the end of Canis Dirus. He’s been incredibly patient and understanding and he’s always just told me that whatever decision is made is the decision that he would respect. In the back of my own mind, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that we were done. My son and his wellbeing were far more important than this. But, in 2018, something happened. Four very specific things, in fact. My son had to have three separate brain surgeries, as well as open heart surgery. Once he was on his way to recovery, he started to feel great and his health began to stabilize. This afforded me more time, so Rob and I began to talk seriously about at least trying to work on new material for Canis Dirus. I began putting ideas down on paper and purchased a few new pieces of equipment to help the recording process go a little smoother.

Then in January of 2019, I finally sat down to start the process of composing riffs and ideas that I had in my head. At first, it was a little bit of a struggle due to not having played in such a long period of time. But then, one day during the writing and recording process, it was like a switch had been turned and all of these fucked up emotions that I had been internalizing came flooding out of me in the form of this new music. It was like this huge release. It was so fucking cathartic and beautiful!”

Healthy and thriving child births are one of those things Americans take for granted, so when something that is supposed to be so wonderful turns into a nightmare, music is probably the last thing any of us would be thinking about. And yet, music is there for us when these dark nights pass. Following this calamity, Paulson is eager to tell us how Independence to the Beast came together. “Once we got into a nice groove, a lot of the writing just came naturally. I told Rob (Hames – vocals) right from the start that most of these songs, in terms of the music and arrangements, are going to be directly tied to my experiences with my son over the past six years. He was obviously very understanding of that. But when it comes to lyrics, he can’t live out my life through his writing, nor would I expect him to, so on some of the songs where I wrote the music, he wrote the words. There exists a bit of a dichotomy there, where the meaning behind the song in my own head is quite different from that in Rob’s. Since these songs have much more personal weight to them, we felt that it was important for Rob to match his vocal style with whatever type of emotion the song was trying to convey. I think he did a really good job.

At times a muted shriek, at others an unhinged howl reminiscent of Jan Transeth’s performance on the first In The Woods… album Heart of the Ages, Hames certainly conducts a wrenching electricity through the compositions on the album. Independence to the Beast manages to capture a blistering, cold black metal atmosphere, templated as such but synthesized with a host of moods and forays into ambient, noise, doom, and even further elements of sound. Paulson shed some light on how they managed to navigate those transitions within their songs so seamlessly.

“That’s a great question and my honest answer is simply that I don’t know. I’ve never truly been comfortable with my skill level as a songwriter and with that, its those transitions that you speak of that have always tripped me up in the past. I’ve not had time to analyze it, but perhaps the fact that I sort of let my emotions take over as opposed to sitting down and being more cold or analytical helped out.”

The range of Paulson’s emotions shade sweltering album closer “Unyielding” in a torrent of varied expression. Beginning as a hard-as-nails head-banger of a tune, things soon tread into acoustic realms, before becoming altogether unsettling in a haze of noisy ambience. One can only imagine how the rage, the love, and the uncertainty of such feelings might manifest. To tie in Hames’ lyrics, “Unyielding” is accompanied by a Nietzche quote, but one that hasn’t been used a thousand times over. While the music may be an exhalation of Paulson’s own suffering, the subject matter of the lyric suggests concern more with the ruinous lurch of humankind towards a self-made doom, as opposed to any sort of superstitious or occult preoccupation. Paulson expands. “Thanks for picking up on that! Again, where it pertains to Rob’s lyrics, he sort of has his own interpretation of what themes or concepts should be used and he bases that off of a feeling he gets while absorbing the music. I will say this though. Canis Dirus is not and never will be one of those bands that gets too deep into political issues. Having said that, Rob felt “Unyielding” to be an instance where we can perhaps give a slight commentary on the utter buffoonery that we as a human race display. It seems more people are finally coming around to the fact that climate change is a real thing and it needs to be dealt with. These people just put their heads in the sand and act as if its not their problem. Its complete insanity. So it’s this continued encroachment on our natural world, our forests and the landscape that is the inspiration behind the song as well as the Nietzche quote. The capitalists and the one percenters are unyielding in their pursuit to damage the earth even further without much thought into what it means for future generations.”

Quite difficult to argue with such notions, no matter where one stands. Overall, the themes of anger, outrage, isolation, and longing which comprise Independence to the Beast shine through, be it in the slow burn of opener “We are the Ancient Ones,” with its roaring, shrieking vocal and repeating riffage, or the harrowing, psychedelic journey that is “The Child & The Serpent.”

One of the biggest strengths of the album is its varied moods. Like the seasons, it doesn’t sit still. And in much the same way returning to a forested path can reveal different secrets to the observer at different times, repeated listens of Independence to the Beast can distill different impressions. The calm of spoken-word solace on “To Cast the Runes” gives over to the unbridled ferocity of “Extreme Might of Resolve,” pulling the listener along into darkness. Soaring keys underpin desperate screams, evoking shades of the old guard of symphonic black metal bands (before they tried to go all movie soundtrack on us), until coalescing screams and driving blasts resolve into one of the more straight-up true heavy metal moments this side of Fenriz. Wolves howling; a rockin’ bit of soloing – for sure an album highlight that has it all.

With such exciting songs ready for that late-winter 2020 release, the question is begged: What can fans expect from a rejuvenated Canis Dirus?

“In addition to releasing Independence to the Beast in late February, early March of 2020, we are currently finishing up two songs for a split release with our friends When Bitter Spring Sleeps. The details of this release are still being worked out, but we’re already demoing some songs and arrangements for our next full-length album. I promise it won’t be another eight years!”

Follow Canis Dirus on:

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GALLOWS HYMN – A Gathering Storm: Rising Force In Underground Metal Makes Their Stand

“The world will know . . . that few stood against many, under a gathering storm!” Thus, on the wings of a rousing intro, begins The Gathering Storm, the debut album from Washington state’s own progressive death metal prodigies Gallows Hymn. After a name change (the band was known as Empyrean until 2018) and an intense period of focus, the four-piece has imposed its will in the recording studio and the results are both victorious and impressive. With so many bands releasing music, it’s always fascinating when an up and coming unit can draw from such a vibrant creative arsenal.

Six-stringer Nicholas Spevak reports that there was very little standing in their way. “The album was written over the course of about 9 months, until we started recording in the fall of 2018. The writing process was fairly smooth and straightforward to be honest. A big reason why this album came together so well in a relatively short period of time was mostly due to our work ethic and discipline, and the fact that we are lucky enough to all be on the same page creatively speaking. Some of the songs on the album were written while we were under the name Empyrean. We quickly developed a different sound and style and felt a name change was fitting after bringing in our current drummer, Matt Howe.”

Where some artists can only produce greatness out of some sort of tension or conflict, fellow guitarist Zach Hornung exudes the joy of creative synchronicity. “The writing process was the most enjoyable part of the album process. It came most naturally to us. We recorded everything ourselves, and I actually had to learn how to do everything on the fly as we were doing it. It was a very constructive learning process, but quite stressful at times. We had originally planned for a longer time frame for recording, but we got contacted by Art Paiz (bass player of Hate Eternal) about mixing and mastering and we decided to speed things up a bit. Also, we quickly learned that delegating roles and responsibilities would work well in our favor and expedite the process. That was key to moving things along as quick as they did.”

The stress felt to get the recording done properly is understandable, as the fortunes of so many metal bands rest upon their ability to sound both professional and spontaneous in the recording studio. It’s safe to say that the band succeeded.

One word that comes to mind when listening to The Gathering Storm is grandeur. In the same way that bands such as Primordial and Nechochwen weave tales out of their compositions, Gallows Hymn builds their songs via an unhurried approach. Feeling and intensity are woven throughout the nine tracks on offer, whether it’s in the mournful guitar leads and lush keyboards of “Beacon of Fire in an Age of Ice” or the jolting pugnacity of “Xibalba.” The somber heathen cadence of “Straumfjord” brings to mind the windswept fervor of bands like Falkenbach, injecting just a hint of a folkish feeling into the prog-metal battery.

While each song sounds bred for the same album, Gallows Hymn is clearly drawing from varied wellsprings of lyrical inspiration. Is there a philosophical connective tissue binding such disparate subjects together? Nick Spevak elaborates. “While our songs are all eclectic in their subject matter, I see them as all rooted in the universal human struggle against adversity, in one form or another, whether that be warfare, oppression, or even the forces of nature itself.”

Vocalist George Miller, whose rasping shout hearkens back to the old UK doom of Aaron Stainthorpe or Vincent Cavanaugh, also provides a wicked boost to the bottom end, his bass licks as visible in the mix as the booming percussion of the aforementioned Matt Howe. Pertaining to the poetry he delivered, Miller concurs with his guitarist. “I find that our individual lyrical themes relate closely to one another regardless of subject matter. There is common ground between these songs. There is a desire to overcome. A bridge between god and man. A road between reality and fiction, history and our future.”

Wise words, young band. This is the feeling surrounding A Gathering Storm, an album of surpassing dignity that does not forget to rock the socks off the listener. Nick Spevak discusses the spellcasters who immersed him into a life of music. “In a lot of ways, we all share similar interests musically. One of mine and Zach’s foundational bands is Opeth. We are equally inspired by the different genres of extreme metal as well as progressive music. Some of my personal influences as far as bands are from the Greek metal scene. I am particularly inspired by Septicflesh, for their melding of both the grotesque and the sublime. Also, Rotting Christ is badass for the use of world music and tribal percussion in the context of metal. As far as lyrical themes, some of my favorite bands are Primordial and Ahab, especially for their use of serious subject matter as well as an epic sense of storytelling. I am also influenced by music outside the realm of metal, in particular 80’s goth, but I also take massive influence from classic cinema and composers such as Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota and more recently Jocelyn Pook. What I appreciate about their compositions is that they served the purpose of advancing a greater story in the context of the films. One of my ultimate goals as a songwriter is to meld the use of cinematic storytelling with extreme metal.”

Zach Hornung is similarly inspired and enthused. “As Nick mentioned, Opeth was a huge influence on me during my formative musical years. In particular, learning songs like “Hope leaves” helped me discover chords and intervals that expanded my conception of guitar playing. That lead me to fingerstyle acoustic playing, spanning from Andy McKee, Donovan, Nick Drake and others. Most every Gallows Hymn song has some artifact of influence from that style of music in my guitar playing. aside from that, I got really into choral music when writing for the Gathering Storm. Russian choir, and modern film choir in particular. Enslaved is a huge influence, right up there with Opeth. Also, Fen, Dead Can Dance, Wolves In The Throne Room, Agalloch, Fallujah, Hate, Meshuggah, Ulcerate, and the whole Icelandic black metal scene. There is a wide range of influences but that is just a quick gloss.”

Its not surprise that Gallows Hymn takes their influences from such a wide array of artists. The music on their debut, however, is entirely focused upon making riveting heavy metal. Riff-driven, fist-pounding metal, as exemplified in album closer “Seven Pillared Worthy House.” Yet they aren’t afraid to add orchestral flourishes, the keys flavoring the sound not dissimilar to the way Satyricon employed them on their classic Nemesis Divina album. Noticeable, yet in no way taking the place of the six-stringers’ work.

“Atmosphere is one of the most important aspects of our music,” asserts Spevak, “but I would say that the key to our work is the overall composition and structure of the songs. Pure “atmosphere” without any memorable or catchy riffs would be bland, but on the other hand, so would a collection of heavy riffs with no atmosphere or embellishment. As for the orchestral sections that you hear on the album, our goal is to mold a symphonic element to the music without over relying on it or using it as a substitute for bland riffs and boring rhythms. While I am a believer that metal can reach the heights of classical music and sometimes does, I do think that there are many bands who use an orchestra as a crutch and that are all sizzle and no steak.”

Hornung knows that different elements within Gallows Hymn’s sound each have their role. “I think Nick pretty much hit the nail on the head. I would add that our music is primarily focused on melody and the orchestral elements tend to expand on that to bring everything together and add different textures.”

Textured melody, pounding rhythms and interludes of instrumental beauty abound on The Gathering Storm, putting the listener in mind of bygone ages of heroism and solidarity in the path of strife. Gallows Hymn, however, feels a couple of steps short of the pure escapism of certain strains of heavy metal. Surely, there are lessons to be learned from the past as our species lurches towards its uncertain future.

Spevak picks up the thread. “The inherent problem with the continuous march of human advancement is that every time we think we’ve fixed an issue we’ve often merely created another one to take its place. While I don’t necessarily believe in romanticizing the past entirely, I find that the conditions of the modern world have led to an artificial sterility that ultimately leads to the very evils we originally tried to eradicate.”

Hornung is a bit more pensive. “I don’t necessarily think that technology itself has strangled our way of life. I do think that it has set us on the road to freedom. There are lots of things that could change that, like artificial intelligence or quantum computing, but they could arguably just as easily speed us along to further freedom. But that’s beside the point. I couldn’t have recorded this album without technological progress and the information bank that is the internet. People are oftentimes their own biggest impediment. Its easy for people to sit on their phones or computers or TV’s or whatever technology they have and waste their lives away. And certain companies pay professionals to cater technologies to do exactly that, moral considerations aside. but doing that is better than dying of smallpox, or the plague, or tuberculosis, or polio, or tooth diseases, or any other number of things that technology has allowed us to overcome. At base I think all of that is underscored by human curiosity, ingenuity, will, and creativity. People tend to romanticize the past and forget about the number of children and mothers dying in childbirth and other terrible things. We are lucky to be able to sit in a heated room with running water and a refrigerator and ponder how to construct a great melody, song and capture an atmosphere. People will find ways to be either lazy or productive in any given society in any time period.”

Excellent points raised, it is clear that Gallows Hymn put a lot of thought into their music, as well as its place in the grand scheme of advancing society. Speaking of futures, theirs is looking quite productive as they enter the upcoming decade. Spevak’s excitement is palpable. “For fans of our music you are in luck. We have written 90% of our next album, and are set to begin recording in January of 2020. The next album will be called “The Age of Decadence” and will largely follow the same path carved by The Gathering Storm but with many new improvements. We feel as though the new songs we have surpassed our work on The Gathering Storm entirely.”

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Sangui…. Sanguisuga…. SANGUISUGABOGG

Sanguisugabogg. I first saw the indecipherable logo pop up I forget where, but thought I’d give it a shot because one of my favorite artists (Warhead Art) drew up the cover of their demo “pornographic seizures.” In an age where death metal is over-saturated and overdone, these caveman riffs really pulled through, especially for a demo. At 11 minutes, it is short, to the point and often provides a great break as a stress reliever. Chuggy, crunchy, knuckle dragging “down tuned drug death” guitar, accompanied by heavy drums and intense growling that blend together. Then came the memes. I know this sounds corny, but they nailed down advertising and really got their name out there. 

It was not long after that they announced that they were going on tour. I couldn’t wait and hoped they lived up to the hype they’ve been building. I saw them at their Philly stop on November 30th, 2019 at the Pharmacy, which is a coffee shop. It was small, crowded, shit was probably going to get destroyed and they delivered. The place was packed and they were as tight as the split room was crowded. These musicians have honed their craft, providing simple but far from boring and I look forward to more releases from them.

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