Everybody who witnessed a concert by Cologne Black-Metal-masters Ultha knows that this was more than an assembly of musicians who work for a common goal, or a common sound. It was a kind of vision of what music should be able to do – including helping its human sources get rid of some feelings. Music from the heart and for the heart – if you want to find out more about that check out “The Inextricable Wandering”. Now two of the Ultha -boys have founded a new band called Ropes of Night and the quintet has published their first EP in mid-May via Golden Antenna Records. This is not black metal but glorious post-punk and thus it follows Ralph’s love for that glorious early 80s sound that was driven and melancholic, dark and stellar at the same time. All of this can also be heard on this self-titled debut 7inch. “Halo Cage” is a bit like Joy Division bit with more grit and bit and really takes off into one’s ear canal never to leave it for quite some time. “Faith” is a bit noisier and has a kind of shoegazey feeling to it, which might be a bit like Jesus and Mary Chain. Charming is the voice of vocalist Tatjana who sounds like an 80s pop idol on the right side of the musical spectrum. Both tracks could be leftovers from any of the good ole days when music like this was steaming hot and before it was turned into the poppy mess called New Wave or New Romantics. If you only want blastbeats and screaming, then forget about Ropes of Night; but if you liked Ultha for the underlying emotional darkness – this is your new go-to-band. They have that certain something “more”.
post metal / black metal
For a long time now, lots of metal and post-metal bands have been proclaiming their love for the Deftones as they were the one band amongst the NuMetal-wave of the late 90s that had a more diverse sound. This influence can also be heard when listening to the self-titled debut by Endless Forms Most Gruesome from Finland. The duo consisting of Ghost Brigade’s Manne Ikonen and mastermind Juuso Raatikainen (Swallow the Sun) plays a harsh, blackened kind of post-metal that fits very well to this day and age as they are afraid to first run over the listener: Opening track “Black Hole” sounds more like Full of Hell collaborating with KK Null in all its direct, noisy attack. But after this quick clearing of space in the audience’s ears they spread their filthy, yet sometimes experimenting post-metal. And here the Deftones definitely come into play: EFMG are not as groovy as the usual NuMetal-clones but they rather make use of the Sacramentonians’ experiments with sending singular guitar lines through the songs. This way, the Deftones were able to incorporate a kind of soulfulness and lightness into their sound which EFMG also tries to establish. Or they use some gentle picking over a soft string arrangement in “Free Fall from Womb to Grave” just before they riff their way through the rest of the song and show Juuso’s roots in doom metal. A promising debut in all its low-tuned, upwards-thinking, lyrically-miserable glory.
punk / death metal / black metal
Karloff from Oldenburg, Germany have listened to some Stooges and Blue Cheer, but also some classic old school death metal stuff or stuff like Bathory. The punk thing is the first thing that strikes, listen to “Fright Fever” for example. High speed octane stuff, very much like New Bomb Turks or Turbonegro with a drummer releasing his inner Animal – remember the Muppets? But that would indicate a certain non-committing to their own ideals which is definitely wrong because Karloff is not one of these Motley Crue wannabe-bands. The guys from Northern Germany take their music seriously and that is probably the biggest difference to guys like Hank Van Helvete, they are no novelty act. The blackened vocals show despair and often blend seem like a mix of classic early hardcore shouters and black metal singers, sometimes even being close to thrash metal. The excellent riffing and precision make for a force to be reckoned with.
shoegaze / doom
Lyon, France is known to be a tasteful town. With newcomers Hadewijch a new chapter seems to be added to the former culinary capital of the world. One that doesn’t known boundaries or limitations – at least, not many. It’s not that they seem to have no musical boundaries, because they do perform within the frame of doomy post-metal. But they seem to have a very open-minded mindset as they want to show the possibilities of musically transcending the bodily realms, just like a good herbal therapy. This can also be noticed when listening to their debut-EP which is one, single track – but 19 minutes long. In that time, you can hear a lot of doomy but also noisy shoegaze elements that will help you find some positive vibes for your life. You might hear some Neurosis or My Bloody Valentine, to give you an idea that might push the comparisons a bit too far. The trio is not yet on the level of the bands mentioned, but they are quite good and for a debut, this is promising quite a lot. It will be interesting to see with which noise they follow their herbal and musical theory; nevertheless, they give you one more reason to think highly of the tasty town Lyon.
post rock / doom / shoegaze
“I really messed it up this time” - hell, how wrong can a line from a new song be? Atlanta, Georgia’s Of The Vine are due to release their third regular release (which again needed five years to see the light of the night) called “Left Alone” via A Thousand Arms and dunk!records at the beginning of May and they show why someone called them “the prettiest doom band you’ll ever hear”. No, this is neither doom, nor metal. Nevertheless there is something about this band that one could link to Doomgaze bands like Spotlights; or, depending on one’s preference, to post-rock bands like Pray for Sound; still, “Left Alone” is not even in the middle of those poles or circling on any equator between them – one should not try to categorize Of the Vine because any attempt is set to fail from the start. Thus a look at the real music is necessary.
Taking two songs from the record apart will provide some insight on why this record should be on every post-rock Albums of the Year list at the end of 2020:
“Left Alone” starts off with something the band hasn’t done before – vocals, though too unclean and non-intelligible, have never been part of the OtV-experience and very often this comes as an unpleasant surprise to post-rock listeners, especially if the song doesn’t follow the aforementioned pattern. The song uses a kind of doom structure with the slow fading of revved up guitar lines then meandering into strong moments of “non-existence” where only the simple but highly effective drum parts keep the song alive just long enough for another wave of distorted, now more coherent heavy guitar riffs to fall into place. Roughly at halftime through the song, the band incorporates some melancholic, less power-based guitar lines accompanied by a great sequence of cymbal-ladden drumming followed by blastbeats before the whole song collapses into simple wavey guitars within seconds. That “silent” collapse and ending comes more abrupt than any distorted breakdown heard in heavy post-rock recently. The song ends with a long outro of nearly two minutes playing with small guitar motifs reaching out to each other and the melancholic unintelligible singing underlines the keyboard spheres added to spread the sadness of “being left alone”.
The second example taken from the six-song, 44-minute record would be “Messed it up” which is a really beautiful song on the musical surface playing with nice and beaming guitar licks that topple over each other like 1-year-old toddlers wanting to play but also hurting the other. That beauty is contrasted by the lyrics “I really messed it up this time / Will I ever forgive myself / Will you ever look at me again” - this is not Shakespearean quality poetry, but the song is a brilliant example of how the delivery determines the quality of a vocal performance and not the words themselves. Those contrasts born from the pain of loss and loneliness due to personal mistakes are key to understanding the record, not that it is necessary to bring up the everlasting black-white-schemes again, but with this record it must be mentioned that the despair behind it all is not an external one, it is the despair because of oneself, because of one’s own mistakes and blunders that might drive the “narrator” into the sad screams right at the start of the record and with which he has to cope.
The record is more than your regular post-rock or doomgaze record because the quartet is able to perform any given musical style, which speaks for their musical talent. Taking the time to sit down and listen to this record with headphones on, you can find so many small details that it might cause severe headscratching how in the name of the lord of crescendos and construct-and-collapse songwriting structures this band was overlooked? Well, maybe because they do not use those “simple” notions but more complex ideas of how to convey the idea behind their music.
Quietus – Chaos is Order yet Undeciphered
If a band’s name is Quietus (the quiet one) and they say they play some kind of post-hardcore, it’s my time to step onto the plate. And man, I was not disappointed with this release as Quietus from Charleville Mezières, France, really listened well to what their predecessors had to say – and even more importantly, what they had to play. The quartet really knows how to build intriguing soundscapes around interesting song structures. Sometimes they just simply stop the song after a marching drum part, just to let the simple three chords echo into eternity and then go back into a near-pop punk only to kick the accelerator back into full swing with a high-octane ending. You will recognize some blastbeats to show an even more aggressive and spitting outlet. With the first four songs the band has already shown more ideas in roughly 18 minutes than other bands on a full record.
However, one should note that the band needs to incorporate the lyrics a bit better because they lack something that a lot of hardcore records lack when it comes to the vocals: A clear position within the sound, not trying to say that the band has a bad singer/shouter, it’s just that he might be more in the center of attention in order to get his message across.
If you like some bands in the middle between Thursday and Converge, this French outlet might be just the thing for you. Get on the wagon, before you are said to be a bandwagoneer!
Atomic Trip – Strike #2
Buzzov*en plus Weedeater plus a tinge of Primitive Man – that is Atomic Trip on their second record, simply called Strike #2, released a few months ago on Wooaaargh. One other band that can be heard on this two track, 41 minute (!) assault is Earth, because the trio Lyonais from French epicenter of good taste displays the same good taste in their choice of tuning and performing a style that can – in parts – hold on to the path that the forefathers of said genre – doomy, sludgy, slow, distorted, reverb-ladden metal – paved and that Atomic Trip is following. However, the threesome also show a sense of humor (stage names are e.g. Jean-Claude van Doom or Gary McDoom) and that is something that they share with some of the best. Do not take yourself too seriously if you play some kind of pissed-off and pissed-yourself sound that shall scare and attract people at the same time. If you like anything in the vein of the bands mentioned above and can also live without vocals, then Atomic Trip is definitely something for you to check out. Nothing new on planet doom but they surely keep the paths open and maybe at some point other bands will even use them for reference in times to come.
Spotlights – We are all Atomic
shoegaze / doom
Brooklyn trio Spotlights has been in the spotlight for quite some time now. Three years ago they signed to Ipecac for the release of “Seismic”, they then toured their butts off (including a stint supporting the Melvins) and released the awe-inspiring “Love and Decay” last year. Now the trip of the Quintero couple (Mario and Sarah) and drummer Chris Enriquez (of On the Might of Princes-fame) release an EP exclusively for the brilliant Post-Wax Series on Blues Funeral Recordings (this year’s edition will also have exclusives by Elder and Big Scenic Nowhere plus four more relevant records). As expected the record is heavy but not crushing, it’s soothing but not putting one to sleep. The short heavy, upwards-reaching ends of the riffs are intoxicating and the drumming is bluesy and au point. The EP shows four doomy tracks with brilliant little images in it (like the short, oriental percussion elements at the beginning of “Part III” which sparkle in a certain light), yet there are also these gut-wrenching screams in “Part I” or the near-punk-intro to “Part IV” with its driving piano intro and the simple riff just to open up when the vocals show that this is not some strange punk band on mescaline but a doom band playing a sludge-song. This band belongs in the spotlight!
[ B O L T ] / Morasth + N / [ B O L T ]
drone / ambient / doom
There seems to be a little of a trend going on over the course of the last six months for bands to release multiple split EPs either on the same day or shortly after each other – one famous example would be Panopticon and their splits with Aerial Ruin and Nechochwen. A less famous band, but doing some awesome splits is [ B O L T ] who released a split with Morasth from Mainz at the end of last year and one with N at the beginning of 2020. The latter is the seventh release in this ongoing series of collaborations between the drone artist N and [ B O L T ] (who are both, like Morasth, from Western Germany) and the sound is very droney, a bit ambient but always with a bit more soul than a pure electronic version of said genre.
The way that [ B O L T ]’s two basses reverb on this record is just mind-bending. The band that jumps to mind as a reference would be AUN. The split with Morasth on the other band is very doom, very rich in harsh riffs and very dark, here the instrumentation is clearly very agitated and not meant to keep the sounds going but let the waves collapse and break off one after the other. The first reference that comes to my mind would be Black Shape of Nexus. The facts that both splits were released by dunk!records just shows how open that label is, and if you then add the total length of both split, which both clock in after circa 40 minutes, you know that you are deep in a listening session you will not forget.
pop / ambient / shoegaze
Midwives are able to help giving birth to new life and enduring all the pain one (woman) can bear. They transform all the pain into the most joyous of moments. Madeline Johnston chose that name as her stage moniker several years ago and has since released two full-lengths and a b-side collection as Midwife after using Sister Grotto for several years.
Midwife’s music is different in a way, and that becomes clear from the very beginning of “Forever”: “2018” starts with a piano melody in minor keys before the ambient spheres starts in the background and Madeline sings “This is really happening… to me” as if she wants reality to fall apart and away under her vocals. You can already hear her despair under all the distorted singing, she is not going to sing about the beautiful sides of life. She is moaning, accusing life of all the negative things she is going through, like the loss of the beloved creative working/living space Rhinoceropolis in Denver in 2016 and, even harder for her, the suicide of her friend Colin Ward, who she shared an apartment at Rhinoceropolis with, in 2018. Ward can be heard reading out a poem on “C.R.F.W.” (his initials) for about four minutes until a simple drone sets in spiraling upwards accompanied by simple guitar lines and no additional words – a kind of wordless mourning.
Pain and beauty – the two sides to Midwife. The drones have slightly harsh endings just before they ebb away beautifully. The guitar lines are steady but never boring as the are often supported by a delicate echo that makes them reverb into open space. Johnston’s compositions float through the air not being tied to any earthly weight so that you watch them for hours on end without being bored at all. On the other side, the lyrics can have a very different effect because they are among the saddest in a long time. Forget all those black metal bands who are trying to tell you how dark their lives are – Midwife’s songs are real because they are honest and one truly feels afraid for what is going to happen to her next.
This might be the catharsis of the year, the one record which tells you how shitty life is and how you are not able to run away from it. But talking about it at least opens your chest for a breath of fresh air while looking up at the beautiful blue sky outside. Beautiful moments in painful phases of life – Midwife.
ambient / shoegaze
Planning for Burial-like. Have a Nice Life-esque. Archive-ian. Review over.
A: Wait – over?
B: Yeah, why not?
A: Cause it’s too short and non-explaining.
B: Why do I have to explain that something is great when I give such great Comparisons?
A: Because you do not compare the new Folian record Blue Mirror with these bands, you merely give non-existing adjectives connected to these bands.
B: But isn’t that enough for everybody who knows that the new full-length David Fylstra’s third release within the last two months?
A: Well, how many people do you know who know that Fylstra released a split EP with Shifting Harbor called “Tenemos” on January 2nd and a one-longtrack-collaboration with Entresol called “The Archangel of Huntridge” on December 19th before?
B: Hmmm okay, but most people should know that Fylstra is able to convey an atmosphere of naturalness by incorporating shoegaze elements, some industrial sounds, field recordings, guitar work and some ethereal vocals!
A: Yes, most people should know that; however, we both know that they don’t know and not everybody follows The Flenser and it’s connected artists that closely!
B: Wait a moment, Blue Mirror is released on Fylstra’s own Anima Recordings, not on Flenser, only because he collaborated with .drowse for some of their tracks does not mean that all the Flenser-die hards know about him.
A: Of course the die-hards know, but maybe you are right, cause apart from that his work is not that known.
B: Although it should be as he also worked with bands like Bible Black Tyrant or Ramprasad.
A: Although they should yes. Do you know what hit me most positively about this record?
B: Tell me!
A: That is all flows together so naturally, that none of the elements dominates the others and that it sounds as if he knew straight away where he wanted to go with this release like he had a planned out map for his way through all of the fog and the forest of Portland where he lives and works and which definitely influenced this record a lot.
B: But isn’t it the way that he was struck by the intricacies of modern life and all its negative consequences on our way of living?
A: It might be and you definitely can feel the paradox of man trying to connect with the old ways (represented by the lots of acoustic guitar and the field recordings) and our longing for modern-ness and “the new” (shown by the industrial beats and the shoegaze walls of sounds).
B: Oh is that why you wrote that shortest of reviews?
A: Yes, because that’s what these artists also do. Combine old and new. Each in their very own style.
B: Ah, okay, so let’s just say this album is:
Planning for Burial-like. Have a Nice Life-esque. Archive-ian.
shoegaze / alternative rock
Whenever you think you got Deathwish figured out, they come along and jump into your astonished face with a band like Greet Death knocking out your teeth with all their silky, spooky softness and then embracing you with tall towering yet whispered walls of sound.
Not trying to come across as philosophical, but this release is so unlike most other Deathwish releases (for example lately Process Black or Frail Body) that it’s already more hitting than all the other releases.
“Circles of Hell” greets you with an intro that might also be the start of a new Weakerthans record, or the beginning to a good song by some Britpop-sensation back in the late 90s, like Spiritualized or Slow Crush, to drop a more recent name. Another name that might come to mind is Radiohead on their first two records still using some harsher guitar riffs and yet blending those with beautiful pop melodies. “I could give you my heart / what would you say, dear? / I could open my arms / I could just lay here” - pure blessed melancholy accompanied by simple guitar lines opens the record and you feel like meeting an old friend at your high school reunion. And then, after 46 seconds, the first noise part steps in and you are totally drawn in reminiscing of Radiohead, Sonic Youth, Pumpkins and other greats of the early 90s when Greet Death probably would have hit MTV’s Alternative Nation hard. The band is able to shower us with melody and noise, with bliss and pop, with melancholy and sweetness – not only in one song but in each single note.
They also transport that 90s teenage angst thing, the insecurity of youth, the self-righteousness of being young and misunderstood, of wanting to fit in with a non-conformist movement – just listen to the wonderful lines “I hate my friends / Cause they don’t hate themselves / And they shut me up / I want to be like them / I don’t want to talk / I want to think about my days/ ‘till I waste them all”.
And here is the one single thing you might want to complain about – the content of the record. It is a concept album about a couple splitting up, being unable to stay together. The story is told from one of separated and that person is definitely having a very bad time coping with it and drifts off completely into suicidal ideas. Now, a lot of bands talk about death and suicide, but hardly any talks about in such a way, where the “normality” of such thoughts is really hard and where the brilliant noise-rock-pop music might be called a glorification of these tendencies. You should not listen to this record being in a depressed mood, it might not be good for you.
Nonetheless, from an artistic point of view, it is nearly unbelievable how impressive this album is. One really has to listen hard to hear that this band is not from the UK, but from Flint, Michigan, that they are not teenagers themselves but twens. And that this is not a wonderfully encapsulated record from the 90s blown through a wormhole into the present and now unloading all its blissful queerness onto the ears of nowadays’ audience. The youth should listen, and everyone else, too!
shoegaze / grunge / post punk / noise rock
It’s that special sound of the guitar strings that makes shoegaze so unique – that moment when the pick hits the string and then the sound starts winding its swirling way up the long, thick metal cord. Something similar can be said about the significance of those same strings for a grunge song, albeit here the sound is not winding up slowly and seemingly winding along even after the end of the neck, in many grunge songs the sound is pretty short but robust. You can see the difference clearly when listening to “Loveless” and then to “Nevermind”.
Rarely a band comes along that denies its allegiance to one side or the other, which merely says “Hey, never mind being loveless!” Timelost is one of those rare bands and at the same time they are more. Another example of 2019’s singular position among recent decades when it comes to new sounds and combinations, just think of Witch Trail or Jambinai.
So here Timelost are, now entertain us. The first song already transports a similar vibe - “You’ll never know / How strange I feel / It comes and goes / It’s always there” is a laconic take on a broken relationship and the time lost becomes its drive impersonated by the energetic drums and the quick guitar lines that seem to reach for something beyond its origins. Singer Shane Handal mentions that this is some kind of ongoing motif on the album – relationships and loss, “It’s weird to throw yourself out there to the world and be so vulnerable but it felt honest and real. We wanted to put out a genuine record from the music to the lyrics.” There is something in those good and simple, yet exquisitely shoegaze-grunge songs that goes straight to the heart and makes us want to embrace this duo for all it’s worth. Maybe it’s something like the outro of “Nausea Curtains”, where a few harsh hits on the drum kit end a line of reverberating guitar twists, and the semi-acoustic guitar intro to the following song “Don’t Remember me for this”, where the acoustic-ness is then substituted for some swishing rides of the shoegaze riffs up the neck of Handal’s guitar.
There are some clearly grungey moments on the record like the intro to “The River broke us” which sounds like a meeting between Kurt Cobain’s neck and Dean DeLeo’s strings. This record is much more than one part Set and Setting (Handal) and Woe (drummer Grzesiek Czapla) – it is neither and stands within a new sound realm, one it draws the listener to. Timelost are here to entertain us, no matter the melancholic mood they were in when writing the record, these eleven tracks spread loads of warmth.
post rock / shoegaze
It’s very hard to do something original in music these days, be it with appearance, style, genre or any of the myriad options open to bands. Step forward Hungarian band Torzs with their latest album Tukor. You see, this impressive album was recorded in a cave, an actual honest to goodness cave system in a Hungarian National Park. This was not done just as a gimmick (although it is a pretty good one!) no, it seems that recording the record in this way gives the record a quality you just don’t get any other way. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but it does give the record an otherworldly quality, a depth you can almost physically feel, it’s quite beguiling and well worth the mammoth effort it must have been to get it done in this way.
The group themselves describe the album thus: “meant to inspire self-reflection, to conjure ideas about how we see ourselves in one another, how our paths through life parallel, and how these related images can become distorted based upon who’s perceiving them and how.” The whole album is a journey and indeed the music has an open expansive quality to it where you begin to journey inwards, to question past experiences and examine internal and external relations.
Lead track Elso starts as the albums means to go on with deliberately paced, delicate guitar picks over a gradually building rhythm section. The whole thing drips with an ethereal quality and the wispy gossamer strands of music seem like they would almost fall apart if reached for. Album highlight and final track Hatodik takes the themes of self reflection and runs with them. The guitar work on this song truly shines, and has an almost Floydian feel to it which flows through it's entire length and you find yourself swept along by it. It’s immersive and has a definite depth to the free flowing dynamic layers of post-rock you expect.
So, if you like experimental free form post-rock, you will find a LOT to like in this album. If there is one criticism to be levelled at it, it’s that it brings nothing new to the genre (apart from the obvious cave recording, which admittedly is awesome) but take nothing away from this brilliant album, if you like instrumental music and post-rock in particular, you will absolutely melt into this great album, recommended.
drone / ambient / post rock / shoegaze
The Dutch Norwegianism Records label was founded and shaped by Dead Neanderthals duo René Aquarius and Otto Kokke. Both artists couldn’t find the time to continue with the label (lots of music projects). New owner Hans van der Velden is now taking care of the label that is specialized in releasing noise, free- jazz, drone, grindcore, power-electronics and other weird stuff for the masses. Hans van der Velde is also the initiator behind the alternative music event Hans Festival taking place in Diepenheim Holland.
In fact thisquitearmy needs hardly an introduction. Canadian experimental guitarist Eric Quach (thisquietarmy) and Belgian drummer Tom Malmendier joined forces. Both musicians met at Beauté Soniques festival in Namur (Belgium) for a Hypnodrone Ensemble gig in the fall of 2016. They got fueled by continental travel stories and meetings through the underground scene. Tom Malmendier is a self-taught drummer who is interested in the sound, more than in the pure technique of the instrument. Playing with sounds and to improvise became a great part of his work as a musician.
Steppe is a collaboration of two artists melting their talents and improvisations into a mix of guitar drones and soundscapes submerged with enormous variations of drumming and percussion. Tom Malmendier ‘s work on this recording shows not only intensive pieces. His percussion also flirts lightly on the surface between the deep drones and effects of wizard Eric Quach. The varied atmospheres combined with the intense drumming make Steppe an interesting and worth listening piece of work. Guitarist Eric Quach shows again that he is a master in creating drones from another dimension.
Tom Malmendier rattles like a carpenter the guitar drones of Eric Quach into a solid and strong sound construction. The frenzied walls of sound have depth and are filled with the dynamic input of the Belgian drummer. Steppe is a vigorous and unpredictable release with surprising atmospheric vibes. We consider Steppe one of the better co-operations thisquietarmy already did.
Maximilian Latva - Nekyia
noise / dark ambient / experimental
HIN - Warmer Weather
Winterblind - Effigy
progressive / metal / black metal
Plague 9 - Mr. Ass
heavy metal / thrash metal
Things That Aren’t There - Vicious Cycles
downtempo / electronic / post rock / shoegaze
Wykan - Brigid - Of The Night
psychedelic / doom
Radien - Aste
sludge / black metal
Peter Jørgensen - Alt i Stykker
ambient / modern classical / experimental
Boobs Of Doom - Sorcerer
drone / doom / noise / experimental
Temple Music - The Unquiet Mind
ambient / electronic
Lunden - Lunden
Jimbo - Where The Vultures Gather
stoner rock / grunge / alternative rock