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 second 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… Also check out Part 1 if you missed it.
VLTIMAS – SOMETHING WICKED MARCHES IN
released: March 29, 2019; Season of Mist
There are many reasons to ignore Vltimas’ debut record based solely on the involvement of one David Vincent. His much ballyhooed reunion with Morbid Angel resulted in The I Album That Shall Not Be Named; his combination of hair dye, interesting hat choices, and mesh shirts screams “midlife rockstar crisis”; and his creation of the I Am Morbid band was a mite tantrumy. But being part of the first five Morbid Angel records counts for something, right?
Sure, but just as important is the pedigree of the other two dudes. Cryptopsy mastermind Flo Mounier and Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen (Mayhem, Aura Noir, etc.) join Vincent to form a kind of newish, vocal-swap version of the Eriksen/Mounier/Steve Tucker lineup of Nader Sadek. There’s also the fact that Eriksen is almost certainly the main creative force, and he is absolutely on fire on the record. Something Wicked Marches In is basically a nonstop onslaught of Eriksen mixing his weirder Mayhem-styled black metal riffs and more pummeling death metal material that sometimes leans more than a little to the Azagthothian school. The latter was likely urged on by Mounier’s more brutal background.
The duo showed great chemistry in Nader Sadek, but here they sound like a seasoned band, and Evil D is – a little… surprisingly? – a natural fit. Sure, he sounds a bit cheesy at times, but no more than he did on Domination, and more often than not he’s a maniacal ringleader, adding a ton of charisma to the instrumental wizardry. Something Wicked Marches In wins for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it’s a decent first stop on the Dave Vincent Redemption Tour, but mostly because it’s packed to the gills with monstrous Rune Riffage. Don’t skip out on it just because it’s hard to ignore the Y’altars of Madness jokes. [ZACH DUVALL]
FLOTSAM AND JETSAM – THE END OF CHAOS
released January 18, 2019; AFM Records
I have spent a good bit of time trying to think of a more polite and fair way to express what I’m about to express, but I keep coming up empty, so I’m opting for bluntness and honesty: Flotsam And Jetsam has always been a “first two records and out” kind of act for me. I saw them perform before and shortly after the release of No Place for Disgrace—the album many would consider their pinnacle, even if that crown belongs to their exceptional debut—and they were a phenomenal force in those late 80s, but they pretty much lost me with the release of When the Storm Comes Down. Since then, friends have suggested multiple F&J recordings intended to show me the error of my ways, and some have come a little close to making me feel guilty, but not enough to truly make a difference. In short, it’s clear to me why folks have continued to dig Flotsam And Jetsam over the years, and I tend to agree that they’re underrated, but the hook is mostly nostalgic for me at this point.
And then The End of Chaos landed in my lap.
Given the backstory, album number fourteen (!!!) from these perennial power thrashers had every right to pass under, over, left or right of my radar, and compounding that confidence to the tenth degree was an album cover that seemed more fitting for a video game destined to land in the five-buck bin two days after its release. (Ol’ Flotzilla looks as pissed to be seen as we are to see him in such a state.) But credit where credit is absolutely due: The End of Chaos is a polished and immensely enjoyable record—certainly deserving of a third spot ranked just after Doomsday and No Place. Sure, the band isn’t quite as ferocious as they were during the “Hard On You” years, but who the fuck is after over three decades of existence. We still get measures where things speed at a surprisingly brisk clip—“Control” is just…wow—but the true strength of the record is delivered by way of the bright catchiness that hooks the listener from the very moment it opens all the way to the very end of the closing “The End.”
In truth, I’m not sure the band has EVER been this catchy, and they’ve certainly never sounded as delectably melodic. Bottom line: The End of Chaos is an absolute home run from a band that some fools like me thought had their best days well behind them. [CAPTAIN]
VÉHÉMENCE –PAR LE SANG VERSÉ
released: February 15, 2019; Antiq Records
I won’t waste your time and mine: Véhémence’s second album Par le Sang Versé is medieval and uplifting as balls. At its core, yes, Véhémence plays epic and highly melodic black metal, but they never dip into the tedium of the worst and most overplayed tropes of “melodic black metal,” “epic black metal,” or any other such thing. It never treads on lazy Summoning worship, nor does it devolve into Swedish-ed to death Dissection mimicry. Instead, you’ll hear… well, you might hear a whole hell of a lot here. One of the reference points that keeps coming back for me is fellow Frenchmen Belenos, but at times I’ve also thought of Windir, Moonblood, Obsequiae, Nargaroth (ca. Herbestlyd), Ulver’s scathing major-key triumph “Of Wolf and Passion” from Nattens Madrigal, and Mare Cognitum. Véhémence merges diverse and often spittle-flecked vocals, occasionally punky drumming, beautiful acoustic passages, and spiraling, almost cosmically minded interwoven guitar melodies into a sumptuously cohesive piece. This is a beautiful, sweeping, impassioned album, as well as – need I repeat? – uplifting as balls. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
IRON SAVIOR – KILL OR GET KILLED
released: March 15, 2019; AFM Records
While we’re on the subject of fun (were we on the subject of fun?) Iron Savior seems to be a logical next step. On their 12th album the Saviors of Iron still sound much like their old selves, using galloping beats to support mid-heavy guitars firing riffs like a Gatling gun opening up on troops charging across a flat field. A chorus of vocals support Piet Sielck’s earnest and enthusiastic delivery. With consistently boisterous pacing, Kill or Get Killed thunders along, imploring Gods and Goddesses to imbue the army with power and will – the quest for eternal survival among a harsh, bitter world where steel reigns supreme. “Stand Up and Fight” finds the most ambitious vocals on the album with the lead lines dropping lazy blues bends throughout the verse (perhaps giving a glimpse into JB Christofferson’s childhood and just where he got his style). Elsewhere, like on “Until We Meet Again,” Sielck lets his pipes breathe as he utilizes a ballad style of mournful vocals over a mid-paced rocker dotted with positively tubular, melodic guitar solos. For the brave listener there are legends to be had; tales available for the taking if you’re adventurous enough. For Iron Savior there is hope in the endless cycle of battle should one not “get killed.” So, remain alive ye warriors with your swords razor sharp and at the ready for battle will find you where you may least expect it. [MANNY-O-WAR]
SWAMP WITCH – DEAD RITUALS
released: May 10, 2019; Transylvanian Tapes
Psychedelic experiences offer access to often unexplored corners of our minds. There’s obvious healing potential in that process, but phantasmagorical horrors can pounce if things go wrong. Oakland-based sludge band Swamp Witch tapped into the heart of a very bad trip on their full-length debut, 2015’s The Slithering Bog, and the band’s recent new album, Dead Rituals, is even more unhinged and unnerving.
Some psychedelic metal calls to mind misty forests – or rambles across curious alien terrain – but Swamp Witch’s scorched-earth psych sounds more like acid-induced psychosis kicking into gear, in the middle of a monstrous murder scene. Recorded by Greg Wilkinson at Earhammer Studios, Dead Rituals is ultra-heavy, fucking ugly, and full of trepanning metal that drills deep into your subconscious. The corpse-dragging weight of bands like Corrupted and Noothgrush sets the pace here. But Dead Rituals also features a mountain of punishing doom, plenty of misanthropic gutter sludge, and the twisted echo of psychedelic rock.
All of that means Swamp Witch sounds both grim and grimy, but also otherworldly. Dead Rituals‘ lengthy songs are thick with bong smoke and conjure strange visions, with Swamp Witch mixing dark hedonism with even darker transcendentalism. Filthy hypnotic riffs circle like red-eyed vultures, while bass and drums pound out mantric meters. Hellish howls cut through the choking murk, and there’s an exorcism, of sorts, lurking in the depths of Dead Rituals‘ crawling dirges.
Swamp Witch sounds like genuine psychedelic voyagers, and their morbid music features plenty of unearthly moments. However, Swamp Witch sounds best when they’re churning through the darkness and channeling all the mind-crushing dementedness of a back alley crack bender. Not all psychedelic pilgrimages need to be cosmic and cleansing. Dead Rituals mix of acid-fried degeneracy and ghoulish obsessions is just as intoxicating. [CRAIG HAYES]
VALBORG – ZENTRUM
released: May 17, 2019; Lupus Lounge
Zentrum is album number seven from Valborg, and finds the German trio settled just as deeply into their idiosyncratic groove as ever. What the hell do you even call their style? I guess a sort of weirdly progressive doom that’s also just as much caustic industrial as it is gloomy rock seasoned with dashes of staccato death metal? All and none of that, really. Shit, the sleaze organ that opens “Anomalie” could have waltzed out of a particularly menacing Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds song. The trouble is that the world has not exactly proven that it knows what to make of Valborg. Some bands—like Godflesh—want to deliver the listener to abjection. Others—like Neurosis—seem to aim for a purifying, elemental catharsis. Valborg, meanwhile… well, I’m not quite sure. More than anything else, Valborg’s principle weapon is insistence. Even when the songs occasionally sit back and sink into slower tempos, the band is always leaning in, crowding the plate, harrying the beat, stalking the resolution. Zentrum is comprised almost entirely of songs that seem simple and self-contained at first blush, but which swiftly fracture and funnel off down unexpectedly rich emotional pathways. The tone is alternately dejected, determined, enraged, and coolly detached. I can’t explain just why Valborg is so consistently captivating even when they seem to paint with an intentionally limited palette, but in part, they sound so fully themselves that it’s hard to avoid pulling every thread to find just where they might lead. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
We’ll be back with more catching up on Friday.