Here at Last Rites, we listen to a metric shit-ton of heavy metal—it’s just what we do. But every year there’s so much great metal that we simply don’t have time to cover it all… or even a significant percentage of it. So every year around the halfway point, we’re inevitably looking back on the first six months and knowing that we missed out on a few things, so here’s the first part of our attempt to wrap up the records we left behind for the first half of 2019… Read on, and in the comments, hit us up with some of your favorites of the year so far, so we can be shamed knowing there’s plenty more we’ve missed…
FULL OF HELL – WEEPING CHOIR
released: May 17, 2019; Relapse Records
Full of Hell seem like nice guys, but that hasn’t stopped them being divisive music-makers. The band’s nerve-shredding output isn’t for everyone, but then, extreme metal is full of nightmarish bands and byways that are fit for some and not for others. Personally, I like a band that’s both uncompromising and an acquired taste, and Full of Hell doesn’t even take it easy on their loyal fans. Some, like me, struggled with the band’s joint endeavors with Oregon-based duo The Body. While others, (also like me) thought Full of Hell’s über-harsh collaborations with Japanese noise legend Merzbow were a dissonant dream come true.
Full of Hell’s latest jarring release, Weeping Choir, was recorded by studio wizard Kurt Ballou at God City, and it’s the band’s first release for Relapse Records. Essentially, Weeping Choir follows a similar path to 2017’s pummeling Trumpeting Ecstasy, with Full of Hell slamming gruesome grindcore and noisecore into gurgling death metal. Strident tracks like “Burning Myrrh,” “Thundering Hammers,” and “Rainbow Coil” feature blown-out squalls of grunts, growls, and all sorts of guttural pandemonium. And Full of Hell’s penchant for deafening eccentricity is exhibited best on Weeping Choir’s “Armory of Obsidian Glass,” which ramps up the tension for seven mind-twisting minutes.
If you haven’t enjoyed Full of Hell’s off-kilter racket before now, there’s nothing in the ear-piercing depths of Weeping Choir that’s going to convert you. Long-time fans, however, will likely be more than satisfied with the album. Weeping Choir’s howling tracks highlight the full range of Full of Hell’s experimentation and their audio extremism. Brutal, bludgeoning, and always discomforting, Weeping Choir is perfect for noiseniks and tinnitus-ravaged rivetheads alike. [CRAIG HAYES]
BLAZON STONE – HYMNS OF TRIUMPH AND DEATH
released: April 26, 2019; Stormspell Records
Following in the footsteps of Germany’s Running Wild, Blazon Stone fires off their typical brand of upbeat, bright power metal leaning far more towards triumph than death on their fifth LP in their now eight-year career. Utilizing choir vocals and catchy guitar lines, the tracks on Hymns of Triumph and Death hop-along like an energizer bunny adorned in pink tube socks. It’s not merely the cover that will bring to mind drinking songs of old and swashbuckling pirates on the high seas of capitalism. Each composition showcases at least a chorus or bridge in which a choir of voices beckons forth from the speakers to enrapture the listener in grog-swilling, mug-clanking delight that results from a group of scurvy-riddled men sloshing grog down their gullets in the wake of a successful pillaging. Perhaps the most fist-pumping, groin-thrust-inducing track on the album is “Iron Fist of… ROCK!” (emphasis added). Riffs of pure steel, likely played with legs astride in a power stance of glory are utterly energetic, imbibing the listener with enough B12 to fill an entire case of 5-Hour Energy shots. All of this in support of Erik Forsberg’s unadulterated gravelly rock delivery, which is spot on for the subject matter; he can easily be pictured (well, his voice can) summoning fury and fire from his troops while standing atop the fo’c’sle as his triple-masted hellbeast bounces atop white caps. Across all of Hymns of Triumph and Death, digitally-enhanced guitars fire off slick, layered lead lines and melodic, ripping solos over riffs as solid as cannonballs. If you like fun, singing along to sweet albums and generally enjoying life because you’re not actually dead yet, then Hymns of Triumph and Death (and Blazon Stone in general) is for you. [MANNY-O-WAR]
MISERY INDEX – RITUALS OF POWER
released: March 8, 2019; Relapse Records
Mid-Atlantic death/grinders Misery Index are damned dependable, bringing razor-sharp riff and bone-breaking groove in equal measure. The flip-side of dependability, of course, is predictability, and Rituals Of Power certainly falls into the category of “exactly what we expected from Misery Index,” which is not to say that it’s bad – because it isn’t – but rather that it contains absolutely no surprises. Thrashy riffs crash into death metal heavinesss atop hardcore grooves, all pushing against grindcore ferocity, and all of it maintaining a perfect balance of the crushing, the catchy, and the vicious.
Even without deviation from Misery Index’s established formula, Rituals Of Power nevertheless hammers down the nails. Their sense of swagger is undeniable, and even the die-hardest of blastbeaters will find it hard to resist the likes of “Hammering The Nails,” or the title track, or even the chunky, chugging chorus to “The Choir Invisible.” Though it treads close to groove metal’s pitfalls, that one never crosses the line into knuckle-dragging dunderheadedness, instead offering up a shout-along that is custom-made for circle pit freakouts, all palm-muted heft until the whole of it slides deftly into an ending both melodic and squalling.
Some wheels don’t need reinventing, anyway. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
AKASHA – CANTICLES OF THE SEPULCHRAL DEITY
released: March 15, 2019; Grey Matter Productions
The Wrest influence on Akasha’s debut full-length, Canticles Of The Sepulchral Deity, certainly doesn’t stop at its fantastic cover art. From the very opening scream of “Portal Through Forgotten Coffins,” it’s clear that Akasha is taking cues from the dry, haunting echoes of Leviathan. Touches of the musicianship, such as the chiming, atonal guitar strums woven into the riff construction or the lurking undertones of the bass as it walks up and down the neck, harken back to the jarring abuse of The Tenth Sub-Level Of Suicide or Tentacles Of Whorror.
What sets Akasha apart is the energy at its core. Packed to the brim with thrashy breakout riffs and frantic running kicks, Canticles feels more outwardly confrontational than Leviathan’s internal aural self-mutilation. As good as the opening track is, the next three somehow kick everything up a notch. From the breakout riff on “Akasha (Canticles Of The Sepulchral Deity),” to the memorable, dare I say catchy, chorus of “She Who Runs With Wolves,” to the more bordering-on-death metal riffs on “Enthroned In Catacombs,” Akasha proves they have no trouble keeping the pace and never relenting.
What fully sells Canticles Of The Sepulchral Deity is Akasha’s ability to always have something different happening, and while on a record on this style would be expected to have the focus front and center in the mix (and it does), there are all sorts of touches and hidden sounds beneath the cacophony of original riffs. Wolf howls tucked away deep into the mix, creative use of guitar effects and panning, hell, for a good portion both guitars seem to be feeding off each other while playing entirely different riffs – all creating a record that has depth as well as straightforward, in your face intensity. From front to back, Canticles is delivering on multiple fronts as Akasha emerges like a rabid vampire fiending for victims and destroying anything that stands in its path. [RYAN TYSINGER]
NYSS – DÉPAYSER
released: May 7, 2019; Avantgarde Music
In only about four years, experimental act Nyss has run the gamut from (very nearly harsh) noisy material to a proggier, classier take on off-kilter black metal. The latter style seems to be where they have settled, as last year’s excellent split with The Howling Void and this year’s Dépayser full length show off a riffy, dynamic, slightly “avant-garde” (in the genre sense) take that could remind listeners of everyone from Enslaved and Ved Buens Ende to Deathspell Omega and occasionally even Krallice. Enslaved is likely to be the most obvious connecting point, however, as many of the record’s riffs carry the kind of stripped-down-but-sophisticated nature of those from Isa. It’s also not a light compliment; Nyss is really good at this stuff, and Dépayser seems to be going for both the progressive scope and diversity of sound that Enslaved achieved on their best records.
There’s a lot to take in, despite the record only being four songs and about 42 minutes in length. The album blasts ferociously under harsh dissonance and has a lot of pure, menacing and malevolent material, but doesn’t forget to occasionally drift into chanting and sea shanty rhythms. Plus great touches like eerie, morose singing or spoken word, haunting violin, keys, a gloriously rumbling bass, and an ever-so-slightly weird and maniacal theatrical touch at times. Nyss makes some obvious calls to their influences but never sound as if they’re plagiarizing due to the quality of riffs and performances. Great little record. [ZACH DUVALL]
OBSIDIAN SEA – STRANGERS
released: March 22, 2019; Ripple Music
There’s a gene buried inside most every metal freak that sparks a craving to become an instrumental force in lifting the veil on the most unknown underground bands that should be on everyone’s radar. This most commonly concludes with the overselling of a lot of mediocre acts, which obviously isn’t the worst offense, but it adds to an already deafening din and promotes the modern “single use” culture that results in people spending about an hour with any one album before permanently moving on to the next thing. This is not one of those cases.
Affirmative: Bulgaria’s Obsidian Sea could probably be considered more underground than a progressive doom band comprised entirely of eyeless moles, but there is absolutely nothing even close to mediocre that could be tacked to what gets delivered through this, their third full-length in ten years of existence. Truth of the matter, this band hasn’t released a bad record to date, but Strangers does “slightly weird” doom better than most anyone else who’s attempting to do similarly. This is traditional, hazy and slightly off-kilter doom done in a way that owes as much to Sabbath as it does a record like Paul Chain’s Alkahest. The songs are drifty, shadowy and periodically trippy, and as is often the case with three-piece acts such as this, everyone gets an equal share of the spotlight, even if vocalist / guitarist Anton Avramov’s fret sorcery is likely to stand out the most. Strangers isn’t just good, it just might end up being the super secret underground doom hit that no one’s really talking about but should. [CAPTAIN]
PYÖVELI – NO SPEED LIMITS
released: April 24, 2019; Headsplit Records
Thrash metal. Fuck you. [Ryan Tysinger]
We’ll be doing this all week. Check back Wednesday for Part 2.