Review of Reverberations by Alluvion

Band: Alluvion
Album: Reverberations
Release Date: 7 October 2016
Download as digital files (name your price) from: Bandcamp

Cover of Reverberations by Alluvion

Alluvion is a band from Fredericksburg, Virginia, that released Reverberations back in October. Be sure to check Alluvion out at the Rhodeside Grill in Arlington, Virginia, on Friday, Jan 27th as part of the local metal showcase the venue is hosting (details here). I’ve never heard of that place having a metal show before so hopefully a good turn out will mean more in the future. Anyways, enjoy the review, written by DCHM writer Tal, and be sure to stream the songs at the bottom of this post. If you really like them, you can download as a name-your-price from the above Bandcamp link.

Alluvion is one of those many metal bands that defy genre categorization. There’s definitely a stoner doom feel to it – the music is thicker and fuzzier than what I normally listen to, but not to the point that it bothers me. But under the stoner doom veneer, there’s a lot more going on. While the first song on Reverberations, “Exodus,” has a lot of long droning tones, the second song, “Heel of the Boot,” is fast and thrashy but with sludgy production, and later on the album there are punk and atmospheric moments as well.

The vocals are equally unique. What drew me most to this album was the clean vocals. The first thing you hear on the album – other than some spacey guitar noises – are John Harmon’s ethereal and, let me just put it out there, beautiful high clean vocals. Especially in the fourth song, “Drop It,” the wavering and drifting style of the high clean vocals reminds me a lot of Cristina Scabbia from Lacuna Coil, which is quite a juxtaposition with the overall thick, stoner-doomy sound. Aside from some outbursts toward the end of “Exodus,” though, John’s clean vocals are not quite as strong and piercing, and they seem to get drowned out in a live setting.

He does have versatility, though, since he also does harsh vocals and screams, all of which are featured in the first song, “Exodus” — so there’s a lot of contrast going on. At first there are riffs that are fuzzy but have heavy metal energy going on in the background, but about two-thirds through, the song slows way down and ends with more spacey noises.

The second song, “Heel of the Boot,” continues the theme of constant changes. After a few seconds of some very cool riffs that alternate between high and trumpeting, and low and bludgeoning, the song becomes a frenetic thrashy assault with harsh screamed vocals and violent lyrics: “Bring that shit around here and we’ll force you under heel of the boot, as we continue to slaughter all you’ve ever loved“. But there’s a clean chorus and then the song becomes very groovy, with a celebratory feel, in strange contrast to the violent lyrics — “All you’ve ever loved, you’ll eventually ravage. All will fall victim to collateral damage.”

As if things weren’t weird enough, there’s “Reverberations,” a nearly two-minute track in the middle of the album with a bunch of people talking, as though in a crowded room, that gradually gets warped and blurred and mixed with creepy mechanical noises that bring to mind sci-fi and horror movies involving alien invasions or demonic possession. The demonic impression is furthered by a voice whispering, “Resonance, spaces, get out of my head.”

The middle track, “Reverberations,” seems like it might be an intro to the fourth song, “Drop It,” especially since that song also includes the line “get out of my head.” This song has the most stoner-doom-like riffage – groovy in a low-key sort of way, and then plodding and understated in the middle of the song. It has a similar vocal mixture to other songs, with mostly high clean vocals and some harsh vocals and low roaring, and closes with about a minute of weird noises – train-like sounds, spacey noises, rumbling that sounds like a collision.

As one might expect by now, the last song, “Critters,” is another succession of changes – from stoner doom rumbling that quickly turns to speedy proggy guitaring and then a pop punk feel with straightforward energetic riffs and harshly shouted and sung vocals. Then there’s a slow interlude in the middle with some atmospheric guitar. In a fitting end to the album, the song ends with about a minute of progressively less-riff-like and more spacey guitar noises.

Despite all that, the lyrics to the album are deceptively simple. Since most of the lyrics are addressed to the second person (“you”), one gets the sneaky feeling, “Is he singing about me?” Since most of the lyrics are critical at best (“I’m gonna show you your own apathy, because our blood stains are on your hands”) and threatening at worst (“Bring that shit around here and we’ll force you under heel of the boot”), it makes for a very unsettling feeling. Having to think and being uncomfortable are not necessarily bad things, though.

With all its jumping around between various styles, the whole album is a bit unsettling. I found myself enjoying bits and pieces of it rather than the whole — the mellifluous clean vocals, the opening riffs of “Heel of the Boot,” the fun beginning and atmospheric middle section of “Critters.” I can’t quite wrap my head around the whole album, but then again maybe that’s the intention.

Review of Sowing The Seeds Of A Worthless Tomorrow by Wake

Band: Wake
Album: Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow
Release Date: 26 February 2016
Record Label: Sentient Ruin Laboratories
Buy as CD ($8) or cassette ($7) or digital ($5) from: Bandcamp
Buy on vinyl (€13) from: Bandcamp

Cover of Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow by Wake

As 2016 comes to a close you’ve probably seen countless end of year lists of albums, often listing many of the same popular releases. We don’t like ranking music here at DCHM (our album reviews aren’t given a score for this reason as well) so at the end of the year I always give my album review writers the chance to pick an album of their choice from the year that they feel deserves more attention than it received. It doesn’t have to be a local band, and in fact this year they have both chosen bands from outside the US. DCHM reviewer Buzzo Jr. chose to review the latest release by Calgary based Wake. Be sure to stream the tracks at the end of the post to give it a listen while you read and be sure to check out Tal’s review of Chinese black metal band Demogorgon’s debut here if you haven’t already.

2016 has been another great year for heavy underground music, and like the previous year, there are a good amount of hidden gems that went unheard by a majority of people. One of the many records I saw missing from far too many album of the year lists was Wake’s Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow. Formed in Alberta, Canada, in 2009, the band’s third full length album is a furious onslaught of grindcore mixed with crust punk, sludge, and black metal.

The album’s opening track “Burn Well” begins with a short, yet foreboding ambient style intro that soon erupts into a full on assault of blast beats and frenzied riffage. The opening track soon fades into silence, but the chaos almost immediately resumes with “Wretched Tongues;” a track that comes rushing out at top speed and then slows down in the middle section for a heavy sludge style breakdown. Kyle Ball (also of Canadian tech death band Kataplexis) showcases his insane vocals on this track in particular; punctuating the breaks in the instrumentation with ear piercing shrieks and gut churning growls. “Wretched Tongues” picks up the tempo once again near the end and terminates with a droning, industrial style outro. The album continues on with “Drones” and my personal favorite track “Better Living Through Apathy.” These third and fourth tracks are rife with dissonant black metal style guitar passages that flow brilliantly with Brian Serzynski frantic d-beat style drumming; creating a fantastic fusion of the band’s influences.

The second half of the record is kicked off by “Low,” and at over three and a half minutes, it’s certainly an epic in the context of a genre with songs barely averaging two minutes in length. It opens with a clean guitar melody that lasts just long enough to lull the listener into a false sense of security, only to explode once more into a barrage of sludge tinged riffs and hyper-speed blast beats. The usage of violent vocal overlays on this track makes it a definite standout and creates an atmosphere of total pandemonium. As one may have already guessed from the album’s title, this is a nihilistic album; both in sound and in message. “Unrelenting Hate” sums up the misanthropic tone of the album perfectly during the song’s breakdown; “We don’t deserve this, we are all hypocrites, we are all arrogant, we are all worthless. We are all scum.” No artsy metaphors, no beating around the bush. Wake’s message is plain and simple: humanity sucks. The album soon comes to a close with the final two tracks. “Vultures” is definitely the fastest track on here, zooming through with hardly any changes in speed and before the listener knows what hit them, it’s already flowed seamlessly into the final track of the album, “Endless Decay.” The final track starts off with a dark vocal sample accompanied by slow, heavy riffs and tribal drum beats. The band once more goes into full on overdrive at the halfway point, putting everything they have left into the final minute before the album comes to a final, screeching halt.

Finally, the production on the album also deserves a mention. Recorded and engineered by Joel Grind of Toxic Holocaust fame, the production manages to land right at that perfect spot in between raw and overly polished. Rob Lachance and Arjun Gill’s guitar tones are phenomenal, being both grime-ridden and filthy while also being perfectly clear. This goes for the vocals as well, with Kyle’s screams being extremely harsh while still having a large amount of clarity to them. A large amount of grindcore acts tend to go all the way to one side or the other when choosing between super raw or super polished album prosecution, so it’s great to see a band that manages to find a good compromise between the two. The main, and possibly only gripe I can manage to think of concerning this record is that it’s relatively short running time of 20 minutes will definitely leave you wanting more. But apart from that, there isn’t a bad song on here and it’s an album practically begging for multiple listenings in one sitting.

Wake’s Sowing the Seeds of a Worthless Tomorrow is a furious vortex of crust soaked grindcore, and is an absolute must have for fans of the genre. Happy New Year to everyone, and once again, here’s to 2017 being yet another year of great music!

Burn Well:

Better Living Through Apathy:

Review of 飞狐 / Dilemma. Revenge. Snow. by Demogorgon

Band: Demogorgon
Album: 飛狐 / Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.
Release Date: 31 October 2016
Record Label: Pest Productions
Buy on CD ($9.99) or digital ($5) from: Bandcamp

Cover of Dilemma. Revenge. Snow. by Demogorgon

As 2016 comes to a close you’ve probably seen countless end of year lists of albums, often listing many of the same popular releases. We don’t like ranking music here at DCHM (our album reviews aren’t given a score for this reason as well) so at the end of the year I always give my album review writers the chance to pick an album of their choice from the year that they feel deserves more attention than it received. It doesn’t have to be a local band, and in fact this year they have both chosen bands from outside the US. First up is DCHM writer Tal’s in depth review of the debut release by a new black metal band in China. Be sure to stream the track at the end of the post to give it a listen while you read and stay tuned for our next end of year album review post coming up shortly.

I am once again enthralled by the literary theme of an atmospheric black metal band – this time Demogorgon, a project of members from established Chinese black metal bands Zuriaake (atmospheric black metal), HolyArrow (epic black metal) and Destruction of Redemption (primitive black metal) as well as the eponymous Demogorgon, a major figure in the Chinese metal scene as one of the founders of the magazines Extreme Music (《极端音乐》) and Dragonland Music (《金属乐界》).

These metal masterminds teamed up to produce a short debut based on the martial arts novel Flying Fox of Snowy Mountain (《雪山飞狐》) by one of the founding fathers of the modern martial arts novel, Jin Yong (金庸). I actually started reading Flying Fox, in Chinese, over the summer, but didn’t finish it yet. Still, the context of an exciting, bloody and yet romanticized story set in the world of wuxia (武侠, the martial hero) immediately caught my interest and made this musical work richer for me.

This release contains only two tracks, although it still clocks in at about 25 minutes total. The first song is called “飞狐” (“Flying Fox”) in Chinese and “Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.” in English — I figure this is because non-Chinese speakers may not know the significance of Flying Fox or be able to understand the lyrics, so the English title gives them an idea of the themes of the song. The song is 14 minutes long, in fine atmospheric black metal form. It has four distinct sections, which are so clearly separated that they might as well be individual songs.

The first section introduces the setting and the story with all the gradual buildup of a movie soundtrack. It starts with a few martial horns blaring and isolated drumbeats, and then distorted guitar notes like thickly falling snow with a dreamlike sad melody floating above. Then it launches into chugging atmospheric guitars, drumming with an irresistible marching rhythm and harsh screams. A duet of clean, solemn vocals poetically describe the desolate wintry landscape:

A cold night with few stars
Shadows vanish and voices retreat
Floating clouds sink away
The white moon is silent and bright
The frosted river, cold and lonely
The mountain forest stands desolate and solemn
Icy peaks like white cranes

The verse ends proclaiming the entrance of the hero: “Through the snow flies the fox!”

The second verse describes the lonely life of the wandering, vengeful martial hero in the same style:

Vengeance spanning generations
Half a lifetime spent wandering alone
Grass and trees flourish and decline
The swan geese fly away and return
A deserted village listens to the rain
I’m alone with my sorrow

The verse ends with an octave jump on the last word, followed by wordless singing in a higher, more emotional register – where before the vocals were solemn, now they give voice to the hero’s loneliness.

Around four and a half minutes, the second section begins, as the chugging guitars abruptly fade out and are replaced by synthesized reed and string instruments, whose long, clear and melancholy notes evoke vast snowy expanses. The harsh vocals that start a minute later sound like the howling of a blizzard. Distorted guitar notes blend discordantly with the vocals, adding to the impression of being lost in a storm.

This time the vocals are conveyed in a harsh, half-drowned scream, once again describing the solitary life of the martial hero:

A free spirit all my life
A wandering swordsman
Used to favor and vengeance
Drawn sword whistling through late autumn

This is followed by a Summoning-like bridge with distorted guitar arpeggios and a gentle keyboard that’s more counterpoint than melody. When the vocals start up again, the vocalist’s extended screams and the vistas of nature evoked by the music make the human feelings in the lyrics epic-sized:

Love and hate are so difficult to lay down
I dream of joy and sadness
And my tears fall in solitude

Just before the nine minute mark, the third section begins with ominous, brassy and discordant notes, like horns sounding before a battle, but in a gloomy key. A repeated clean guitar arpeggio adds to the sense of anticipation before the song plunges into an avalanche of distorted guitar backed by percussion like the clashing of swords and overlaid with harsh screams. The vocals are slightly different again, the screams higher and more desperate-sounding, and the driving, repetitive guitar arpeggio evokes a relentless onslaught of blows. Obviously, this section describes combat, specifically the hero’s prowess:

Blade like sudden thunder
Imposing as the mighty heavens
The vigor of my sword sweeps through the cold sky
The mountains shake with the tiger’s roar
My jade disc travels as a fierce dragon

Then, without relenting its musical onslaught or distraught vocals, the song reverts back to describing the hero’s loneliness and sorrow:

Cherishing
The icy heart of the orchid
Sighing
At the hurried moment of joy and love
Turning my head to look back
The lonely stars weep
A sad moon rises

Then, while the martial drumming, battering distorted guitar and even the harsh screams continue, the solemn duet from the beginning of the song returns for a final sorrowful verse, reprising lyrics from earlier:

The lonely stars weep
A sad moon rises
I dream of joy and sadness
And my tears fall in solitude

In the fourth section, the last 30 seconds of the song is filled with the mournful reed and strings from the start of the second section, as though snow blankets the landscape in the aftermath of battle, and the tragic story fades into memory.

The second track, “悲月 / Sadness Moon,” is very different in style, belonging to the genre of dungeon synth rather than atmospheric black metal. Dungeon synth is a genre of synthesized music that has a medieval feel. This particular track also has a somber, mournful feel at first, as befitting the title. It starts out dominated by long, low tones of synthesized pipe organ. Eventually, resounding drumbeats and a synthesized choir and strings join in, and then a synthesized reed instrument plays a dreamy but lonesome melody similar to the one that opened the album. The second half of the track has a grander and more martial feel, with a marching rhythm, but the final organ tones close the album on a solemn note.

The album purports to “vividly depict the vast lands of northern China” and to evoke the jianghu (江湖, the quasi-outlaw society of martial artists in ancient times). I think it succeeds in creating a certain impression of these concepts, anyway. Both the white-noisey sound of distorted guitar and the solemn or melancholy clean parts lend themselves well to describing desolate, snowy landscapes. This impression is heightened if you watch the lyric video for “Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.” where you can actually see the mountain scenery (in the form of a traditional Chinese painting) as the song unfolds. The jianghu described by Demogorgon, meanwhile, is a solitary existence full of loneliness, longing for lost love, obsession with vengeance, and epic-sized violence – ideas conveyed both by the lyrics and the sorrowful or martial sound of the music. These are not the only or the most important features of the jianghu of Chinese martial arts novels, however – loyalty and seeking after justice are a few others that come to mind – but they are the qualities conveyed by Demogorgon’s work.

That’s not to say I don’t like it, though. Sad atmospheric music is exactly the kind I enjoy, and if it has an epic story tied to it, so much the better. The harsh and distorted nature of atmospheric black metal means that non-metalhead fans of Chinese martial arts novels may not be able to get into the album, or the first track anyway, but by contrast, one does not need to be a fan or knowledgeable about Flying Fox or martial arts novels to enjoy the music as a metalhead. The brooding mood and solemn vocals remind me a bit of Caladan Brood, so fans of that sort of music would probably enjoy the first track, “Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.” The second track, “Sadness Moon,” is not as strong or memorable in my opinion, but then again I’m a bigger fan of atmospheric black metal than of dungeon synth. In any case, the first track is diverse and epic enough to be worth four songs, and a must-hear for 2016 in atmospheric black metal.

飛狐 / Dilemma. Revenge. Snow.:

Review of Dunsmuir by Dunsmuir

Band: Dunsmuir
Album: Dunsmuir
Release Date: 22 July 2016
Record Label: Hall Of Records
Buy on vinyl with signed lithograph ($24) from: Indie Merch
Buy as mp3 ($8.99) from: Bandcamp or iTunes

Cover of s/t by Dunsmuir

Dunsmuir is releasing their debut album this Friday. While the band’s talented line up has been getting a lot of attention, Dunsmuir stands up strong on its own merits. The concept album is a great launching point for the band. We lucked into getting an advance copy of the full album and I got DCHM writer Buzzo Jr to write the following review. Be sure to stream a couple tunes at the bottom of the post while you read it.

Dunsmuir is a newly formed heavy metal band whose self titled debut will be landing this week. While not an entirely local act, Neil Fallon, the frontman of Maryland’s own Clutch, is teaming up with legendary drummer Vinny Appice, formerly of Black Sabbath and Dio. Rounding out the lineup is Brad Davis of the desert rock band Fu Manchu on bass and Dave Bone of The Company Band on guitar. Having been in the works since 2013, Dunsmuir’s self titled debut is an ode to classic heavy metal, along with being a concept album about the fates of the survivors of a 19th century shipwreck.

Upon the first few notes of the album’s opening track, “Hung On the Rocks,” listeners can tell that they’re in for one hell of a good time. The main thing one will take note of here is that the tunes on this record are filled with a much more of traditional metal influence than vocalist Neil Fallon’s other outings like Clutch or the Company Band; both of which feature a heavy blues/punk/stoner rock vibe to them. This is by no means a negative however, as it’s always a pleasure to hear Neil’s amazing vocals regardless of the music around it. Vinny Appice’s drumming is the main star of the following track “Our Only Master,” with his hard hitting beats driving the head banging grooves onward, and at some points hearkening back to his tenure in the Dio era of Black Sabbath. The band’s traditional heavy metal influence becomes even more prevalent in my personal favorite track on the album, “The Bats are Hungry Tonight;” a grooving track that has guitarist Dave Bone playing Iron Maiden-esque galloping riffs and driving melodies backed up by Neil’s powerful voice. It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Neil’s vocals, (as mentioned in my review of Clutch’s previous album, Psychic Warfare) and his instantly recognizable bellows are in part what gives Dunsmuir, and any other band he works with, a unique element that sets them apart from other rock and metal bands. The fast galloping pace of “The Bats are Hungry Tonight” soon give way to the slower “What Matter of Bliss,” a track oozing with doomy riffage and Black Sabbath worship. The slow eerie riffs soon speed up once again on “Deceiver;” a track that combines a great amount of Judas Priest inspired metallic riffs and an infectious chorus.

The grooves keep on coming with the tracks “…And Madness” and “Orb of Empire.” Neil delivers his trademark bluesy shouts and ruff barks alongside Vinny’s bombastic drumming and Dave Bone’s fuzz drenched riffs. The tempo comes slowing down once more for the album’s longest track, “Church of the Tooth.” Dave plays at a crawling pace, interspersing the dark atmosphere of the track with melodic guitar licks and is backed up perfectly by Brad Davis’s bass lines. The penultimate track “The Gate” is a great mid paced track full of hard rocking rhythms. The album comes to an end with “Crawling Chaos!,” which is by far the most sinister sounding track on the album. Neil finds himself switching between his usual melodic croons to an angry growl; all the while telling tales of Lovecraftian deities from another dimension. Lyrics such as “They rise from the desert, from the mountains, and waves, to swallow the sun, cast down their chains, they open their mouths and fill up their lungs, speak the unspeakable, with their terrible tongues” evoke a sense of mystery and wonder, as Neil’s cryptic lyricism often does. Neil’s shouts combine excellently with the bombastic drumming and the grooving riffs, bringing the album to a slow and steady close.

While it’s relatively short run time of 35 minutes may leave you wanting more, Dunsmuir’s debut album is not one you want to miss. Those of you who are fans of Clutch and Dio era Black Sabbath will love this record although they may miss Dio’s signature wails. Here’s hoping that a tour is in the works soon, because I’d love to hear these tracks played in a live setting.

The Bats Are Hungry Tonight:

Crawling Chaos!:

Review of Desolate by Musket Hawk

Band: Musket Hawk
Album: Desolate
Release Date: 6 May 2016
Record Label: Unholy Anarchy Records
Buy on CD ($9.99) from: Unholy Anarchy
Buy as mp3 ($9.99) from: iTunes

Desolate by Musket Hawk

Baltimore’s Musket Hawk put out a a full length in May titled Desolate, despite the quite vibrant colors in cover art. DCHM reviewer Buzzo Jr spent some time with the album and wrote the following review of it. Be sure to stream a few songs at the end of the post as well!

Baltimore’s own sludge/grind trio Musket Hawk are back with Desolate; their second full length album since their self released debut, The Form of Disgust, from three years prior. On their newest release, the dudes in Musket Hawk go full throttle with an intense mixture of sludge, grindcore, and stoner metal.

Sludge and grindcore are two of my favorite subgenres of metal, so it’s always great when more bands successfully merge the two together. Musket Hawk’s Desolate is a perfect example of this fusion of genres done right. The album starts off at a speedy pace with the first two tracks “Pollute Your Throat” and “Reluctant Punk;” both filled with fast, heavy riffs and rapid blast beats interspersed with slower sludge based sections. The next two tracks “Jeweler” and “The Grove” are more mid paced tracks, with “Jeweler” being centered around a grooving breakdown while “The Grove” opens up with a great deal of black metal influence in its riffing structure. Marty Spiro’s guitar work on here is superb, laying down thick riffs that intertwine with Gary Fry’s fuzzy basslines. One of the standout elements of this album are the dual vocals of Gary and Marty; interchanging between deep low gutturals and sharp high pitched screeches. While more grind oriented in nature, the vocals also lend themselves to the more sludge based sections of the albums as well. At times they almost sounded like the frantic cries of a wounded animal; perfectly adding to the grimy atmosphere that the riffs already provide.

While the first four tracks on the album were much more crusty and murky, the second half of Desolate begins to flirt a bit more with melody and stoner rock influences. The B-side begins with “Connois Sewer,” a track that opens with some melodic guitar lines before exploding back into the heavy riffs of previous tracks, although a good deal of melodic undertone is layered into the remainder of the song. “Space Ray Houska” soon comes up next, a track that showcases some post rock elements at its mid way point. Jason Goodman’s drumming on this track is great, transitioning between mid paced d-beats, to slow primal thuds, to all out blast beats. While the drumming is great from a technical standpoint, they did seem to sound a tad wooden when it came to the bass pedal’s sound, but other than that I can’t find any issue with them. My favorite track on Desolate is the seventh track, “Tweed After Dark;” another faster paced track that has an epic melodic line coursing through the song along with the pummeling riffs, giving it an almost Iron Maiden meets High On Fire type vibe. The album comes to a close with the six minute “Candidate For a Knife”; a massive slab of sludgy riffage that goes from a slow doomy dirge, to hyperspeed grind and back again.

Musket Hawk’s newest album is a brilliant fusion of some of the most abrasive genres in modern metal, and at the same time is an album that has a great deal of amazing melody at its forefront. Definitely give this album a listen if you are a fan of grimey, dark sludge and grindcore, and be sure to catch Musket Hawk on the 22nd of July when they play with the legendary Belgian band Agathocles at the Windup Space in Baltimore (details here).

Tweed After Dark:

Space-Ray Houska:

Review of The Pale Haunt Departure by Novembers Doom

Band: Novembers Doom
Album: The Pale Haunt Departure
Release Date: 8 March 2005
Record Label: The End Records
Performing at Maryland Deathfest XIV: 4:10 Friday at Edison Lot B

The Pale Haunt Departure by Novembers Doom

This review of an 11 year old album is part of our ongoing coverage leading up to Maryland Deathfest XIV. I let my writers pick an album by a band that isn’t as popular as some of the bigger names at the fest and write about it in the hopes of getting some more people interested in seeing them at MDF. DCHM writer Tal put together this thoughtful piece on Novembers Doom. You can see DCHM writer Buzzo Jr’s MDF pick here. Stay tuned as I’ll be posting the Maryland Deathfest XIV Survival Guide in just a few hours!

Although I love Novembers Doom, I find it really hard to listen to The Pale Haunt Departure, the Chicago based band’s fifth full-length album which came out in 2005. Pioneers of the death/doom genre, they actually started as a death-thrash band called Laceration in 1989, but by the 1995 release of their first full-length, Amid Its Hallowed Mirth, they had renamed themselves and changed to a trudging doomy sound, sometimes melodic but always dripping with despair. In the early 2000s they reincorporated a more energetic death metal sound, and now their current sound ranges from heavy riffs and growled vocals that sound surprisingly like Swedish melodeath, to lamenting clean vocals, morose guitar melodies and thick doomy riffs characteristic of their early albums. In terms of sound, I actually prefer 2007’s The Novella Reservoir, where they perfect the melodeath sound that they brought in on The Pale Haunt Departure. But The Pale Haunt Departure strikes an emotional chord for me which is hard to escape, no matter how painful.

The first Novembers Doom song I heard was “Autumn Reflection,” which remains one of their most popular songs to this day (all these years later, it’s still the third result in a YouTube search for Novembers Doom, with over 630,000 views as of this writing). I first heard this song when I was just starting my (still ongoing) recovery from post-partum depression, and my relationship with my young daughter was in shambles. The chorus cut me to me core:

I thank the heavens above
For the angel beside me today
The guardian of my sanity
The one who will save my soul

I thought, Damn. This is it. If I don’t get this right, the rest of life isn’t worth a thing. It hurt like hell but it also inspired me to keep picking myself up out of the mayhem and trying to be a better parent, when it was the hardest thing I could possibly do. When I found out in an interview that vocalist Paul Kuhr wrote the song about his own daughter, that only made it more poignant. I can’t believe he says he “catches shit” for writing this “weak” song, by the way. Emotionally I find it quite heavy, and it does have some musical heaviness too.

“Autumn Reflection” is probably the slowest song on the album, though, with no harsh vocals. It does feature some very distorted and heavy guitars during the chorus, a stark contrast to Paul Kuhr’s haunted vocal delivery. There’s nothing weak about those thick guitar riffs, which create a wall of gloom that Paul’s hopeful vocals try to surmount. Toward the end of the song, as Paul sings, “I am stronger now, since you came to my life,” the hopeful feeling prevails (mostly) with a melodic guitar bridge and piano segment that are at once sad and uplifting.

The song after this on the album, “Dark World Burden,” is quite a change, with fast, groovy melodeath riffage. As I alluded to before, The Pale Haunt Departure was the album where Novembers Doom added more of a death metal sound to their previous ponderous and contemplative doom sound. The album starts with this crisp, fast drumbeat and a churning, energetic riff—the eponymous first song is more death than doom, also featuring growled vocals throughout. Novembers Doom used harsh vocals earlier, but they were extra-low and drawn out doom vocals, whereas these are faster and more aggressive melodeath harsh vocals.

The second song, “Swallowed by the Moon,” has more of a slow moody sound with dramatic spoken vocals, although there are also commanding death metal growls. This is another song that seems to deal with failure in parent-child relationships:

Will you remember that I tried my best?
Will you remember the father I was?
Once again the daylight fades, and I’m swallowed by the moon
Will you look back and smile for me?
Will you remember me when I have gone?

The song isn’t completely slow, though–it’s more a mix of melodeath bits, growls and moments of faster heavier guitars, and doomy bits, a mixture that characterizes most of the album.

Prior to The Pale Haunt Departure, Novembers Doom had a lot of line-up changes, but around the time TPHD was released, things started to stabilize. They’ve since changed drummers and bassists, but the guitarists Larry Roberts and Vito Marchese have been with Paul, the only remaining original member, since the early 2000’s. Actually, according to another interview, Larry Roberts was apparently the driving force behind the band’s shift to a more death metal sound.

Most of the other songs on The Pale Haunt Departure have a strong death metal vibe, with fast heavy riffs and growled vocals, but they also have their doomy moments—ominous or despairing spoken vocals, darkly churning or melancholic or dreamy melodic guitars, the crushing but ponderous pace of “The Dead Leaf Echo.” Failure in relationships continues to be a theme, as shown by the chorus from that song:

All I can do, is look the other way, and pretend that your face held a smile.
Not to see your sullen eyes, staring past my soul, into the darkness of night.
I feel I’ve failed you, when we both know, I never had the chance, to say hello.

It’s not easy listening—for me personally, many of the lyrics on this album bring back the time when I was left alone with my daughter, the sinister specter of depression and the strain it has put on our relationship. But I think it would be worse to forget these things—to forget about the angel by my side, how far I have come and the work I still have left to do. I may have lost the paradise of my innocence, but salvation may still be possible. I hear it in the thick and doomy yet uplifting guitars in the last song on the album, “Collapse of the Falling Throe.” The lyrics, however, are much darker than the music would suggest.

And in spite my emotional turmoil, I’m stoked to see Novembers Doom at MDF, where they’re playing Friday at 4:10pm in the Edison Lot. Metal is not an easy listening genre; sometimes it can be quite horrendous. This wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been at a show and had difficult emotions come up. But the very reason doom appeals to so many people, the unique mix of heaviness and sadness that made Novembers Doom one of the foremost U.S. death/doom bands, is the cathartic feeling of facing your inner demon and being able to set it aside. Also, after years of fandom I’m stoked to finally get this chance to see the band live. Despite being from Chicago, Novembers Doom doesn’t seem to tour the U.S. much – they’re bigger in Europe and seem to spend more time performing there. If you’re a fan of heavy music with deep feeling then this is an opportunity not to be missed.

Autumn Reflection:

The Pale Haunt Departure:

Dark World Burden live:

Review of Dominion Of Darkness by Hellbringer

Band: Hellbringer
Album: Dominion Of Darkness
Release Date: 28 September 2012
Record Label: High Roller Records
Performing at Maryland Deathfest XIV: 9:50 Sunday at Edison Lot B

Dominion Of Darkness by Hellbringer

Welcome to the start of our Maryland Deathfest XIV coverage! Usually we only review releases by local bands on DCHM but there are some exceptions, and MDF is one of them. Every year I ask my album reviewers to pick a lesser known band on the Deathfest bill and review their latest album (even if it’s a few years old) in the hopes of getting people to check out one of the great bands on Deathfest that isn’t as well known as the headliners. DCHM writer Buzzo Jr. picked the band Hellbringer, the first band playing on Saturday at the Edison lot. Be sure to give a listen to the songs at the end of this post too.

Hellbringer is a thrash/speed metal band that was formed in Canberra, Australia. The three piece was originally founded in 2007 under the name Forgery by bassist/vocalist Luke Bennett and his brother Josh, who is the drummer, along with Tim Sheppard on guitar. In 2010, following the release of their EP, Tim was replaced by James Lewis and the band changed their name to Hellbringer. The trio soon released their debut full length Dominion of Darkness on High Roller Records in 2012, and will now be playing some of their first ever shows in the United States on their Darkness Over North America Tour; the final show being their first ever appearance at Maryland Deathfest. Hellbringer will be the first band to take the stage on Saturday, playing the B stage at the Edison lot at 12:15 PM.

The mid 2000’s saw an influx in newer thrash metal bands attempting to revitalize the genre that had previously lost most of its mainstream appeal in the 90’s. Modern thrash bands like Havok and Violator were a dime a dozen, but a large amount of these bands suffered from the fact that they all sounded like a 2000’s era band attempting to play Exodus or Megadeth riffs with much cleaner production. This is not the case with Hellbringer’s Dominion of Darkness. This record doesn’t simply sound like a few guys trying to emulate old school thrash metal; no, this is music that if you heard today you would swear it was recorded at the tail end of 1984. A large amount of the bands that emerged in the modern thrash revival mostly relied on emulating the party-thrash style of the classic crossover thrash bands like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter, or the more aggressive and serious sounding social commentary of Megadeth and Metallica. While there are a few exceptions, there are very few modern thrash bands that are able to sound truly evil. Taking an indisputable amount of influence from Slayer’s Hell Awaits record, Dominion of Darkness accomplishes just that. Luke’s reverb soaked vocals are akin to the cries of a demonic hell-beast. Comparisons to Slayer’s Tom Araya are inevitable, but Luke makes these vocals his own, and they work extremely well alongside the crushing riffs that are delivered from James Lewis. The riffs on this album are absolutely vicious; forming a whirlwind of teutonic, blackened vileness, and creating a hellish atmosphere that brings visions of demons inhabiting an otherworldly realm filled with nothing but pain and fear. The crushing riffs are interspersed with solos that are melodic yet at the same time absolutely chaotic. While not as technically impressive as the guitar and vocal work, the bass guitar and drumming on the album also play their part brilliantly. The grooving bass lines supply additional weight to the main guitar riffs, while the d-beat style drum beats serve to make sure that there is never a sense of empty space in the album; varying the tempo of the fills and double bass when needed. While some listeners may be seeking more technical and progressive thrash metal in the realm of Vektor, I definitely think it’s one of the best thrash albums to come out it a long time.

If you’re a fan of old school satanic thrash metal, then give this record a listen as well as heading to the Edison lot early on Saturday to catch Hellbringer’s set. These tracks are bound to get everyone’s heads banging from the get go. Hellbringer will also be releasing their second full length record Awakened From The Abyss this August, so make sure to keep an eye out for it!

Sermon Of Death:

Demon’s Blood:

Hellbringer live: