New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: metal rock

Swedish Metal Band Alastor Deliver a Morbid, Psychedelic Response to the Insanity of 2020 and This Year

Swedish metal band Alastor‘s riff-metal surrounds you in walls of distortion and fuzz, but with refreshingly oldschool production values and swirly organ which amps up the psychedelic factor. The band like slow, sludgy songs with tarpit acid blues solos and more interesting structures beyond simple verses and choruses. Only a couple of tracks on their new album Onwards and Downwards – streaming at Bandcamp – clock in at less than seven minutes. It’s interesting to hear a band that’s always been associated with doom metal switching out the usual macabre chromatics and horror riffs for a more circling, mesmerizing, immersive attack.

There’s cold clunk from Jim Nordström’s drums behind frontman Robin Arnryd’s spring-wound, growling bass as the opening track, The Killer in My Skull follows a slow sway, up to the distorted, circling chords and distant organ in the hypnotic, riff-driven midsection.

The second track is Dead Things in Jars, a toxically foggy update on Master of Reality riff-sludge with slowly shifting rhythmic changes, guitarist Hampus Sandell’s screaming wah lines winding down quickly to a slow space-blues interlude.

Death Cult is an unexpectedly fast, pounding, slurry number that’s a lot closer to Brian Jonestown Massacre spacerock. Sandell gets the fuzz and the distortion going with his hammer-on riffs as the bass and drums take a much slower prowl in Nightmare Trip.

They follow the brief rainy-day acoustic guitar interlude Pipsvängen with the album’s epic title track, slowly shifting from one anthemic, burning theme to another, making you wait for the big payoff. They close the album with Lost and Never Found, a grim metal take on a ba-bump stripper theme.

As a whole, the album is a response to the insanity of the past fourteen months. You may wonder why a Swedish group would be complaining about the lockdown, considering that Sweden basically didn’t (and their COVID death rate was much lower than regions that did). Well, Sweden is cashless: there’s no need for lockdowns when all citizens’ purchases and whereabouts can be surveilled. Public health, after all, is just a pretext for instituting a locked-down 24/7 surveillance state.

A Grimly Majestic Lockdown-Era Album From False Memories

False Memories play metal ELO. High Romantic angst boils over in the Italian band’s ornate, majestic anthems, which manage to be catchy yet unpredictable. Wild guitar solos are not their thing: their sound is built around roaring chords amid synthesized orchestration, with echoes of 80s dreampop and goth music. Their new album The Last Night of Fall is streaming at Spotify.

Frontwoman Rossella Moscatello is a brooding presence in the midst of steady, relentlessly unsettled, clanging changes that rise with an enveloping crunch and then recede in the opening number, Black Shades. Guitarists Francesco Savino and Moreno Palmisano hit a gritty mathrock interlude as the string synth wafts behind them, bassist Gianluca Zaffino and drummer Emanuele Cossu maintaining a surprisingly low-key pulse.

As you might guess from the song titles, Moscatello sings in English, with a wounded, sometimes sullen delivery; the gloom is unmistakable, the specifics of it much less so, especially when she’s half-buried in the mix. Case in point: track two, Rain of Souls, which could be an early 80s gothic Cure tune with a leadfoot rhythm and a woman who likes soul music out front.

From there the band segue into Voices and its slow but tricky rhythmic shifts behind an increasingly ominous haze. The chromatics get more grim in Hysteria, an absolutely priceless mockery of lockdown-era paranoia and totalitarian regimentation, complete with a litany of rules to follow.

The band build The Illusionist around a creepy music-box riff: it’s not clear exactly what the deception here is, but it’s definitely evil. Lingering clang, syncopated crush and symphonic swirl all come together in Erased, followed by White Crows, which is basically part two, Moscatello reaching for the rafters and then backing away mournfully. Everybody goes out in a vortex, rising out of the murk but never quite shaking off the muck in Unfaithful Dream, the album’s most dense and enigmatic track.

A desolate, funereal atmosphere contrasts with waves pummeling the beach, more or less, in Sea of Nothingness, the album’s darkest and most musically interesting track, complete with a tantalizingly brief guitar solo. Deep Breath – something we could all use right about now, right? – is a bleak, pounding tableau: “The ground is wet, but nothing grows there,” Moscatello observes.

The album’s final cut is Don’t Forget, a crushing, dirgey, familiar word of warning: we all know what happens to people who ignore the past. As strong and consistently interesting as this album is, Moscatello is an underutilized weapon in this band. Processing her vocals for the sake of dynamics would work: doing it on every track gets old fast. Singers like her cannot be caged: they wreak infinitely more havoc when they run free.

A Tantalizingly Short, Heavy Album From Ancient Settlers

Spanish metal band Ancient Settlers’ new short album Autumnus – streaming at Spotify – kicks off with a catchy, plaintively circling symphonic instrumental. The first song, A Monument Restored is just as catchy, an interesting mix of 70s heavy psych and art-rock set to a pummeling mathrock beat, with a tantalizingly brief twin guitar solo half-buried in the mix.

They follow that with Die Around Me, a big anthem in densely recorded, pounding disguise: it seems like some kind of sci-fi nightmare. The final cut is Diamond Eyes, building from an ominous minor-key sway to a fullscale gallop. It makes you want to hear more of what guitarists Carlos Chiesa-Estomba and Emmy Reyes, drummer Herman Riera, keyboardist Rene González and bassist Miguel Herrera have up their sleeves.

Tight, Gloomy Doom Metal and Psychedelia From Florida Swampland Band the Doomsday Rejects

Sludgy heavy psychedelic band band the Doomsday Rejects got their start playing at the edge of the Everglades amid rising swamp gases. What does a band sound like when weed mixes with methane? Their menacing new album Six Hundred – streaming at Bandcamp – might be the answer.

The first track is Burn. Jason Morgan’s growling bass and guitarist Roland Dean’s slurry chords and Stoogoid wah riffage prowl hypnotically over drummer Capo’s slow, steady sway, frontman Lenny Smith weaving in and out with his apocalyptic rasp. Much as this band likes long, spacious, psychedelic interludes, they have a tight, no-wasted-notes focus and riffs that will still be hammering your brain after the album’s over.

Brujas de Montana has more of a bludgeoning Orange Goblin fuzztone sway, but also hits an unexpectedly anthemic peak after the first series of twin guitar-bass riffs. These guys know every classic heavy psych trick in the book.

Open Your Eyes is a lot faster but even more hypnotic, decaying to a stygian halfspeed break with downtuned bass and a tantalizingly brief guitar solo. Devil’s Candy is a funny, slow march that could be a video game theme. Likewise, Satan’s Panopticom, a sludgy, brief death metal number: definitely a song title for our time, huh?

Built around a creepy chromatic riff and flaring guitar multitracks, Dementia 666 is the most menacingly catchy song on the album. The album’s most epic and psychedelic number is Tlazolteotl Holy Excrement, shifting between halfspeed and then back to a grimly martial swing.

There’s also a pretty straight-up cover of Black Sabbath’s After Forever – you know, the one that gets unexpectedly religious after “Would you like to see the Pope at the end of a rope, do you think he’s a fool?” This band’s rhythm section nails the same swinging groove that Geezer Butler and Bill Ward used on the original; true to Ozzy’s original vocals, White sings into a fan.

Empire de Mu Raise a Lost Continent to Explosive Heights

We know from the spread of animal species around the world, from Africa outward, that there were once vast expanses of land where there is only ocean now. Accounts vary widely as to why these land bridges disappeared. The most commonly accepted explanation is the plate tectonic theory. Others believe that these once-fertile land masses sank because the earth’s crust had not yet solidified enough to keep them above sea level. A much more sinister theory is that they were destroyed by aliens using a beam weapon from outer space: an ancient precursor to 5G.

Empire de Mu build on James Churchward’s von Daniken-like tales of the lost continent of Lemuria, or Mu, in their colorful, explosive new album Spiritual Demise, streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a wild mix of angst-fueled High Romantic classical melodies, snarling metal and mathrock beats.

They open with a somberly cinematic, cello-driven overture, frontwoman Arianne Fleury leading a choir of voices up to the crunchy, constantly shifting rhythms of the first song, Submersion. Drummer Tommy pummels his way through the maze as guitarist David Gagné and bassist Sami El Agha solidify into a menacing chromatic theme. Throughout the album, Fleury sings and roars in French, English and Spanish, no doubt drawing on an operatic background.

In the second track, Under the Black Sun, it’s Gagné’s turn to build a thorny thicket of minor-key riffage, capped off with a supersonic solo as Fleury shifts from arioso drama to a death metal rasp. Ouloum II is much the same but shorter. After that, Fleury ranges from the top of her formidable range to the grim lows at the bottom in Death Lotus, Gagné building a savage web of tremolo-picking and minor-key chromatics.

El Agha switches to buzuq for the haunting, tantalizingly short Egyptian-flavored instrumental Souk: he could have gone on for three times as long and nobody would be complaining. It’s a good segue into Ruins of Lemuria, Gagné constructing his most ornate, grimly symphonic melodic lattice.

From there they segue into the frantic Naacalls, rising from low-midrange roar to yet another sizzling series of Gagné solos. They close with Faithed Sorrow, a tragic, Romany-tinged coda.

These days, some believe that humanity is in many respects reliving the end of the Lemurian Age. According to this argument, the lockdowners plan to use 5G microwave weapon satellites to crush any remaining opposition to the needle of death, lockdown restrictions and surveillance, by frying entire populations who refuse to comply. That would explain why free countries like Nicaragua and Croatia, and the fourteen free US states, have been allowed to liberate themselves up to this point.

Icon of Sin Put an Expertly Cynical, Smart Update on a Classic Metal Sound

Brazilian band Icon of Sin play a surreal blend of gritty, anthemic late 70s acid rock and early 80s British metal. They take the spirit of early Iron Maiden to its logical conclusion, but with more original and tuneful songcraft than most heavy riff acts. Frontman Raphael Mendes sings in English, in an operatic Bruce Dickinson baritone with a sinister wink. Beyond the drama, it’s not often obvious what he’s singing about, adding to the surrealistic factor. Bassist Caio Vidal plays with a Steve Harris snap, but closer to the ground. Likewise, drummer CJ Dubiella keeps the drive straight-ahead and uncluttered. Guitarists Sol Perez and Mateus Cantaleãno play catchy, anthemic changes with soloing that’s flashy enough to draw some blood but not so much that it becomes a cartoon. Their new album, streaming at Spotify, is one of the first rock records so far with the guts to tackle the ugly consequences of the lockdown, even if they do that opaquely.

They open with their brisk, propulsive theme song: hey, if you’re going to sin, you might as well do it iconically. The second track, Road Rage is an even harder-charging, thrashy number: run to the hills in your tricked-out Toyota. The guitar chords grow fangs but get even catchier in Shadow Dancer, which seems to be a celebration of all the things that can only be found when the sun goes down.

Unholy Battleground is a heavy biker rock tune in a Death Wheelers vein, peaking out with a tasty, bluesy solo: a war-on-terror critique, maybe. Nightbreed is just as grimly anthemic, a big backbeat tune with tinges of 80s goth.

Is the lickety-split, Motorhead-inspired Virtual Empire a cynical commentary on the lockdowners’ attempt to take all human interaction online, where they can spy on you 24/7, Chinese Communist style? It would seem so. The band keep things in the here and now with the even more corrosive Pandemic Euphoria, which could be the UK Subs at the peak of their metal phase. The album’s best and most epic track is Clouds Over Gotham, shifting between gentle, early Genesis-tinged interludes, a fullscale stampede and nightmarish symphonic angst…but if Mendes’ prophecy comes true, we will rise again!

Arcade Generation is a steady, midtempo metal take on Stiv Bators’ old observation about how video games train the kids for war. The band turn Japanese for a moment in The Last Samurai, with its elegant folk-tinged intro and rapidfire, bellicose Asian riffage. They nick a classic early 80s Maiden sound for in The Howling and stick with it for the closing cut, Survival Instinct. Let’s hope they survive to make another album as good as this one.

Vast, Relentless, Menacing Epics From Nordgeist

T sits alone in her room somewhere in Siberia and screams.

And sings in a ghastly whisper, and plays layers and layers of guitar, and records it, probably on Garageband. And releases it under the name Nordgeist. That’s about all we know about her. Glenn Branca’s minimalist multi-guitar symphonies are a good point of comparison, Paysage D’Hiver is another: endless, hypnotic epics, vast clouds of guitar overdubs, and, song length aside, a very tuneful sensibility. You really can hum – or scream – along to Nordgeist’s new album Frostwinter, streaming at Bandcamp.

You could crank up the almost fourteen-minute opening monstrosity, Winter, and notice how fast she’s tremolo-picking those chords. The woman must have strength in her wrists to match the venom in her lungs. She finally slows down to a bitter, resigned descending progression before returning to the jackhammer assault.

A drum riff and then a pummeling vortex of My Bloody Valentine digital-reverb guitar burst in over Siberian steppe sonics as she launches into The Old Wolf. It’s a muddy, hypnotic mix, guitar and bass a lot higher than the vocals and the drums, which seems intentional. Is that a wood flute way, way in the back? Is that a blunt you’re smoking? That would make sense under the circumstances.

What does Revenge sound like? A lot like the rest of the album, and until about a third of the way through it doesn’t seem to have a time signature: it just keeps going on, and on, and on for almost a quarter of an hour. Talk about getting even.

From there she segues into the last song, Sorrow, quickly rising to a galloping intensity. The past almost fourteen months have been hell. Nordgeist feels your pain.

Venomous Australian Heavy Rockers Stay Strong Under Hellacious Conditions

You could make a strong case that Australian band Hellz Abyss named themselves after their home country. The lockdown there has arguably been more hellacious there than anywhere else in the world other than Communist China or North Korea: freedom of speech has been banned, the government shut down the rice industry to starve the population into submission, and most recently, lawyers who fight the lockdown are being disbarred. Meanwhile, the lockdowners are diverting the country’s scarce water resources to a massive fracking project.

Hellz Abyss’ new album N#1FG – streaming at Bandcamp – doesn’t specifically address the lockdown. but if Australians have as much balls as this band, everything’s eventually going to be ok. The group have a unique sound, based in metal but with a snotty new wave edge: imagine Missing Persons or Garbage but with genuine bite. In a twisted way, this is a great party record.

Guitarist Daryl Holden builds a gritty, slow crunch around a famous Pink Floyd riff in the first song, Dead Ones: “Don’t be afraid to die, you’re already dead inside,” frontwoman the Venomous Hellz, a.k.a. Lisa Perry luridly intones. “You lost everyone, you spread it like a disease,” she snarls in over a heavy, minimalist postpunk stomp in the second track, Ratatatatat.

Built around a catchy, circling riff, Kill the Real Girls seems to be an attack at backstabbers. The band keep the crunch and roar going with The Darkest, a kiss-off anthem. Then they get more psychedelic, with tinges of Indian music, but also a lot more explosive in the next cut, Faith.

The bass gets more of a snap in Waste of Time, one of the catchiest tunes here. After that, the group bludgeon their way through the bizarrely atmospheric Liar, Mark McLeod’s double kickdrum going full force.

Rope Bunny has hammering QOTSA riffage, while Salute comes across as a tighter take on the Runaways: “I’m gonna make you regret every choice you made,” Perry warns. Nine tracks in, we finally get a squealing guitar solo.

They slow down for Trust, Perry cutting loose with her wounded wail, then go back to a fullscale four-on-the-floor roar with some weird sci-fi EFX in Paper Back Lover.

Viscious is a mix of black-lipstick goth ballad and growling punk rock, with the album’s most unhinged guitar shredding. Shoot to Kill is a thinly disguised one-chord riff-rocker; “You can’t control me” is the mantra. The album winds up with Soul Eater, an echoey mashup of early Van Halen and AC/DC with a woman out front.

Get a Killer Heavy Playlist, Save an Iconic London Venue

[Editor’s note: stranger things than an album mysteriously disappearing from the web have happened over the past year. But isn’t it suspicious that a charity compilation whose proceeds benefit a UK live music venue would suddenly vanish without a trace? Such a campaign, after all, goes completely against the lockdowners’ interests. In the New Abnormal, the arts are illegal, and the only entertainment is online, where it can be surveilled. If and when this returns to the web, this page will be linked to the audio]

The Black Heart is a beloved, intimate music venue located in London’s Camden Town, and home base for the wildly popular, annual Desertfest. It’s also one of the city’s top spots for heavy music. And since the Boris Johnson regime turned the UK into North Korea, the Black Heart has been cold and dead. There’s a crowdfunding campaign going to keep the venue from shutting its doors forever, and an incredibly diverse, mind-opening 38-track compilation, Countershock, streaming at Bandcamp [but now conspicuously missing] and available as a name-your-price download with all proceeds going to help the club.

It’s an amazingly eclectic playlist, something for everyone: many different extremes of heavy psychedelia, plenty of doom metal, stoner boogie, thrash, a little death metal and postrock too. Cool as it is that so many well-known touring bands have come out in support of the club, this is also a great way to discover some of the UK and Europe’s best undeservedly obscure talent while helping a good cause.

The obvious stuff is as good as you would hope: none of these bands phoned in their contributions. Year of the Cobra‘s chromatic dirge The Battle Of White Mountain is a prime example, especially when the bass rises and circles behind an oscillating guitar break about five minutes in. Most of these songs are long: the shortest one is Sasquatch’s My World, but it’s a galloping, fuzztone riff-rock gem. And Chingus, by ZED, makes a great segue.

Heavenly Manna, by Salem’s Bend is another killer cut, a mix of sledgehammer riffs and ominous, enveloping, lingering calm, with an incisive wah guitar duel over an unexpectedly lithe pulse. Also on the heavy psych tip, Ritual King‘s Dead Roads has twin fuzztone bass/guitar leads, unexpected tempo shifts and tantalizingly short guitar and bass solos.

So many of the more obscure tracks are just as relentlessly strong. Skraeckoedlan contribute Universum, shuffling heavy biker-ish rock in the R.I.P. vein with tasty downtuned chordal bass and a new dawn fade of a bridge. Miss Lava‘s shapeshifting, funereal The Wait also has more than a hint of Joy Division, especially as the bass pierces the gloom. And the way Morag Tong‘s We Answer slowly closes in on the abyss is one of the album’s most mesmerizing moments.

You want great drums? Try Possessor’s unexpectedly nimble Coffin Fit. Heavy, heavy funk? Mount Kong, by Purple Kong goes off the scale. Carnatically-inspired wailing over bludgeoning riffage? Ashurbanipal’s Request, by Lowen is for you. The Lunar Effect reward your perseverance with the most obvious and hilarious Sabbath homage as the next-to-last track here. It’s impossible to think of a better payoff than the screaming solo that winds up Butcher in the Fog‘s Electric Van Gogh to close the mix on a high note. Once we overthrow the lockdown – which we’re going to have to do, otherwise it’s New Abnormal forever – these bands make a good bucket list to check out when we get unrestricted, unsurveilled concerts going again.

A Strangely Anthemic, Crushing Blend of Styles From the Aptly Named Evil Drive

If you’re a metal fan, you probably wouldn’t think that death metal vocals, ornate Iron Maiden-style tunesmithing and retro 80s guitar flash would make much sense together. Evil Drive’s new album Demons Within – streaming at Spotify – is a mashup of all of that. It’s the kind of record where your first reaction is WTF. Forty-tive minutes and ten tracks later, it suddenly hits you that you’re still listening.

Take this evil drive and you’ll get it. The intro to the first cut is so predictable it’s funny – except that’s stiletto heels stalking the pavement, not leather boots. Frontwoman Viktoria Viren does the nails-down-the-throat rasp in English over the thrash of guitarists J-P Pusa and Ville Viren, bassist Matti Sorsa and drummer Antti Tani, until they slow down for a second for the chorus.

Track two, Chains is a strangely catchy blend of hardcore/thrash rhythms, peak-era Maiden and sly, showoffy 80s guitar tapping. It’s easy to imagine Bruce Dickinson doing his operatic thing over the ornate, symphonic changes of the title cut, peaking out with an Arabic-tinged guitar solo midway through.

The band go back to the thrashy verse/lushly orchestral chorus template for Revenge, with gritty, scrambling leads and tricky rhythmic changes. We Are the One – an original, not the punk classic by the Avengers – is a big, stampeding Run to the Hills-type anthem, the longest and best song on the album.

Stun-gun staccato and searing twin leads threaten to take Too Wild off the rails. Lords, the next track, is the big hit, a more crazed take on gloomily anthemic European stadium metal.

The machinegunning assault reaches a peak with more than a hint of horror surf in Bringer, then with the ninth track, In the End, we finally get a fractured ballad – who would have expected to find elegant twelve-string picking on an album like this? They close it with Ghost, which with its stampeding drive and total Powerslave-era Maiden guitar duel is anything but ghostly.

There isn’t a single idea on this record that hasn’t been used before, but nobody’s figured out how to put them all together like this band. Raise your lighter to the hope that we can see them in one of those stadiums they ought to be playing this summer.