It can be bizarre. It can also be off-putting. But it’s an entirely new realm of the sub-genre that can afford some great new bands and masterpieces to listeners. The power metal scene has really blossomed since the arrival of X Japan in the ’80s, and since then it’s been taken to new heights and limits.
The wrath of an angry God.
Last year the Swiss duo Bölzer took the metal underground by storm with the ferocious and staggeringly unique EP Aura. With a sound akin to an army of fallen angels descending upon an unsuspecting earth, frontman KzR and drummer HzR had a rampaging beast on their hands. Concluding a duality of sorts, the hotly anticipated Soma allegedly represents the female aspect of the universe, whereas Aura took on the form of the male.
Deeply entrenched in KzR’s interest in shamanism and mysticism, the dichotomy of Aura and Soma is not simply a matter of darkness and light. The power of Soma, a holy plant in Vedic culture, was said to come from the gods themselves. While this context might be important for the complete aesthetic of Bölzer, we are of course first and foremost here for the music. Soma continues to build upon the cavernous riffs and hooks of its precursor, and in that sense it is a continuing journey through the obscure corners of the universe.
From the first notes of “Steppes” it’s obvious that Aura wasn’t just a happy accident. Bölzer bring back the eerie blackened death metal riffs, with the same sense of cosmic splendor and urgency that made the previous EP such a masterpiece. KzR’s untamed howling is somewhat restrained here, while passages of clean vocals add another transcendental layer. In the background the drums are fervently preparing for war, never breaking their blistering momentum. Although black/death metal is currently in the wind, Bölzer continues buckling the trend by crafting increasingly intricate and unusual melodies, and simply by doing it better than anybody else.
The EP is completed by the gigantic 12-minute epic “Labyrinthian Graves”. A zealous ascent to magnificence, the track is a more deliberate affair than the opener. Like purposely rolling thunder, its length allows the song to unfold masterfully, peaking over and over before fading into a low-key ambient ending. Comparable to being hurled through a vortex of madness, the multilayered vocals and complex songwriting entwine with monumental force. Bölzer are violently lashing out with one fist while solidifying their ironhanded supremacy with the other.
Compared to its counterpart, Soma isn’t as immediately engaging, lacking the phenomenal intensity of an “Entranced By The Wolfshook”. That being said, taking a more measured and deliberate approach suits Bölzer well. The colossal weight and density of “Labyrinthian Graves” exhibits a different facet of the fearsome duo, but still feels like a natural extension of Aura. Now bring on the full-length!
Thriving under pressure.
Formed in Arkansas in 2008, Pallbearer are a doom metal band that have been highly regarded since their debut demo in 2010. Their demo got the band signed to Profound Lore Records, who released their 2012 debut full length, the widely acclaimed Sorrow and Extinction. After some great tours and wide spread praise, the band return with their new full length, Foundations of Burden. Like their debut, this second helping has already earned similar, if not more, acclaim, and rightly so. This is a doom metal album for the ages, and one of the best the year has to offer.
From the get go, Pallbearer do not waste any time. Where the prior album has a two-plus minute acoustic intro, this album kicks off right away with the heavy guitars and Sabbath influence the band has come to be known for. The album grabs you by the hand and doesn’t let go for nearly an hour. The music is as heavy as before, but the band seems to be more confident. The songs progress well, and even with multiple songs reaching the 10-plus minute mark, nothing ever feels as if it drags on. The song writing is engaging, and the melodies and interplay with the instruments and vocals are expertly performed. The drums and the bass work well together and add some great catchy moments, while the guitars can be heavy and fuzzy, but at times also very bright and melancholic. As mentioned earlier, the songs do progress well, with their own peaks and valleys, making the songs feel alive, which really helps the listener feel engaged in the music and truly experience the emotion put forth.
However, the music is not the only means by which emotion is evoked. The vocals on the record are also incredible, and like the music, sound more confident and mature. The vocals tend to stay in the mid-range and higher range, but in a track like “Foundations,” they do get a bit deeper, and even in the lead off single “The Ghost I Used To Be,” there are some screamed vocals which bring a nice change and a welcome, additional energy to the album. As far as feeling, the vocals often range from being melancholic, warm, inviting, and pained, but always melodic and tasteful. The lyrics are, for lack of a better term, standard doom fare with songs about sorrow, loss, death, etcetera; however, they never feel overblown or clichéd.
Further, the production on the album is simply amazing. While the prior album sounded great as well, it did feel a bit muddy at times. However, any prior issues are washed away on this new release. The production is clearer, and every melodic guitar lead or little change and nuance in the songs can be heard without issue. The mix is perfect as well, as each instrument feels right, nothing drowning out anything else. This is one of the better sounding records to come out this year, and certainly in the genre. Personally, it hit me like Soma, the Windhand album in 2013, which was my favorite release of that year.
I feel there is nothing that can be overstated about this album. Many reviewers have already praised this record, and most likely many more will do the very same, however, there is no hyperbole in the case of Foundations of Burden. Pallbearer were already on the radar for a lot of people in the metal world, and this album proves they are no fluke. Truly an outstanding effort that any doom fan needs to pick up ASAP.
Welcome to Yob University.
Oregonian doom trio Yob have just about seen it all – they’ve disbanded and regrouped, played basement barrooms and gray-skied festivals, and they’ve even went arena, sharing sold-out stages with Tool during a few East Coast and West Coast runs, including one earlier this year. A quick look at their résumé tells a story as clear as day – Yob hit their stride a long time ago.
With Aaron Rieseberg on bass, Travis Foster on drums, and Mike Scheidt on guitars and vocals, the same cast responsible for 2009’s The Great Cessation and 2011’s Atma have returned with Yob’s seventh full-length album in Clearing the Path to Ascend, a record that leans a little more towards the spiritual side of things than it does trailblazing up a mountainside.
Since Atma’s release and successive, relentless touring, Yob’s members have managed to keep themselves entertained – Foster and former Yob bassist Isamu Sato dabbled and dissected with the experimental blackened folk metal act Hail, Aaron Rieseberg plucked strings for sludge-doom metal quartet Norska, and Scheidt, the busiest bee, completed an acoustic solo project, joined forces with black metal group Vhöl, collaborated with John Baisley, Nate Hall, and others on the second volume of the Songs of Townes Van Zandt compilation, and he also aided in the construction of the Lumbar masterpiece The First and Last Days of Unwelcome with Tad Doyle and Aaron Edge. Thankfully, Yob’s creative well has yet to run dry.
In contrast to Atma or The Great Cessation, which come off as entirely more ‘metal’ offerings, Clearing the Path to Ascend contains four tracks that further develop the band’s affinity for the esoteric and the transcendent, and when coupled with the album’s drag-along tempos, the result is yet another achingly heavy psychedelic doom metal affair that bears greater spells of melody, entrancement, and some of Scheidt’s most seasoned singing.
The opener “In Our Blood” acts as the record’s quintessential tune, setting the precedent with qualities the succeeding three tracks soon expound. It’s a sprawling introduction, loaded with tempestuous mood, room-stuffing distortion, and the marriage of Scheidt’s unmistakable cries and his equally distinct thunder-meets-lightning guitar lines. It’s a stark and dissolving doom affair with a just-audible recurring sample that accurately embodies the music and emotions felt therein – desperation borders redemption.
The second and most aggressive track on the album is “Nothing to Win,” a rolling and rumbling High On Fire-driven sludge-doom vehicle that contains the large majority of the record’s head-banging. Essentially playing off a single cyclical and buzzing riff, the rhythm section’s warbling bass and heavy use of tom drums give it a fierceness and a pace not seldom used by Yob, a peculiarity that instantly brands it the album highlight, even if the most majestic is still to come.
Taking top prize for the most despondent track on Clearing the Path to Ascend is “Unmask the Spectre.” Slaving along painfully, it’s a gloomy crush of a song that embraces its funeral doom attire while sticking firm to its mystical guns that continue to blast off with plumes of foggy notes and shuddering drums. A most challenging episode, no doubt, and an oddly exhaustive buzzkill, as sad and as cathartic as it is, that lulls you into a trance as it compresses you into a flattened pulp. Kill the lights for this one.
In stark contrast to “Unmask the Spectre” and, well, the rest of the album, the closing “Marrow” is Yob taking flight with a gorgeously psychedelic send-off. Replete with zephyrs and low-lying cumulus, it’s an ethereal experience, a song that seems so at peace with itself and its own sentience that it just cruises, aided only by the vocal caress of Scheidt, a man who delivers what is perhaps the most moving performance of his studio career. And for a track longer than most EPs, “Marrow” showcases the acumen of a band both gifted and polished, entirely comfortable playing and rocking within their own doomy niche.
Yes, Yob take their time with each tale and every magically spun yarn – the shortest track on Clearing the Path to Ascend still clocks in at over 11 minutes – but a little patience, a prudent ear, and a pumping stereo system will prove invaluable. Still, time is but an invention, and there’s no telling just how often you’ll come back, nor how many times you’ll become lost inside Yob’s latest creation.
Hans gets up close and personal with Swedish melodic death metal band Meadows End and the whole band joins in to give some insight.
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
― Salman Rushdie
The Million Dollar Grunge Album That Never Was
Tons Of Rock Day 3, June 21st 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 2, June 20th 2014
Tons Of Rock Day 1, June 19th 2014
The Suicide Silence guitarist opens up about the death of Mitch Lucker, getting the band back together, and their badass new record You Can’t Stop Me.
The Metal Observer recently had the chance to speak with the legendary founder and driving force behind Falconer, Stefan Weinerhall. Returning with the band’s eighth studio album, Black Moon Rising, which recently dropped on Metal Blade Records, Weinerhall speaks about the intensity of the new album, his approach to songwriting and influences, among other things.
A star-studded line-up this week, for what’s shaping up to be the penultimate entry in the TMO Singles Roundup series, featuring new music from Opeth, In Flames, Sonic Syndicate, Mastodon and ’68.