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 third and final 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 and Part 2 if you missed them.
11PARANOIAS – ASTERISMAL
released: March 15, 2019; Ritual Productions
Heavyweight UK-based trio 11Paranoias wrap psychedelic doom around experimental drone, and then they dunk the result in a boiling vat of fuzzed-out noise. With links to psych-rock titans like Haiku No Ku and Blown Out – as well as crashing behemoths like Bong and Ramesses – 11Paranoias are well-acquainted with sculpting intimidating barrages. The band’s latest album, Asterismal, completes a trilogy including 2014’s Stealing Fire from Heaven and 2016’s Reliquary for a Dreamed of World. And like those endeavors, Asterismal is heavy enough and dense enough to have conjured its own gravitational well.
Asterismal sounds epic and surreal, with 11Paranoias exploring the dimensions of inner-space as much as the fathomless gulf between the stars. The band’s music transforms darkness into ecstasy, as your consciousness becomes untethered, with super-heavy cosmic rock fusing with sludgier and more atavistic and/or esoteric rites. 11Paranoias works propulsive drums, bass, and visceral riffs over and over. Engulfed in tidal waves of crushing heaviness, lengthy tracks like “Loss Portal,” “Slow Moon,” or “Quantitative Immortalities” fracture the space-time continuum with a fevered synthesis of insanity and euphoria.
11Paranoias churns through tracks that rise and fall, working their way slowly to greater heights, until songs eventually explode, and minds duly follow. Like the immersive recordings of kith and kin Bong and Ramesses, 11Paranoias’s music is often overwhelming and feels like it crosses thresholds. Asterismal is intense, unconventional, and challenging. However, like a lot of the heaviest hallucinatory music out there, the rewards for putting in the work are manifold and manifest. [CRAIG HAYES]
POUNDER – UNCIVILIZED
released: February 22, 2019; Hells Headbangers Records
Generally speaking, if Matt Harvey is involved in something, then it’s worth listening to. The man’s metallic pedigree runs the gamut from his main gig in Exhumed, whose exploration of all things Carcass-sounding has yielded grand results in both burpy gore-grind and more melodic thrashing death, to the thrash of Dekapitator or the Repulsion worship of Expulsion. (And speaking of Expulsion, it’s time for more of that, Matthew.) Pounder is Harvey’s foray into traditional metals, and for the most part, one stumble aside, it’s yet another feather in the cap of a metal master.
And what is that stumble, you ask? Well, rumor has it that Harvey and his cohorts (Carcass second guitarist Tom Draper and Nausea bassist Alejandro Corredor) searched for a vocalist with the soar capable of delivering classic metal, and finding none that met their needs, settled on Harvey himself behind the mic. Though his raspy clean is capable of (uh!) delivering the goods on scorchers like “Red Hot Leather,” he doesn’t fare as well on the power ballads. Of course, ballads are for wusses, anyway, so crank up Uncivilized and rock. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
EQUIPOISE – DEMIURGUS
released: March 8, 2019; The Artisan Era
Look, I don’t know what in the hell heavy metal is, okay? As a thing, a unit, a narrative, a whole: there’s too much muchness there to hang a tidy explanatory hat on. As such, I can’t really tell you that Equipoise’s debut album Demiurgus is the apotheosis of anything in particular. I can tell you that it feels like it wants to be the apotheosis of several things in particular. A less shitty way of saying that is that Demiurgus is one of the most beautifully ridiculous albums I have heard in quite some time. The band’s chosen style is a shreddy, wildly neoclassical type of technical death metal slathered in liberal helpings of keys, flamenco guitars, guest musicians, constantly sliding fretless bass, and anything else that happened to strike their fancy. In other hands, this could easily turn into an overstuffed yet deflated mess, but part of what serves Equipoise so well is that their overall approach is… well, extremely delicate. The mix is busy and the songs constantly in motion, but the general touch falls much closer on the light-touch virtuosity of Liszt or Vivaldi than the fiery density of Wagner or Mahler. As such, even though Equipoise is inescapably modern, there’s a much closer kinship to the progressive death metal of the early ‘90s (particularly Atheist and Cynic) than to anything even as diverse as Necrophagist, Obscura, or Fallujah. (Just listen to that beautiful breakdown that hits at 2:03 into “A Suit of My Flesh” and tell me it isn’t a pure love letter to Atheist.) At times, listening to Demiurgus feels like listening to Rhapsody of Fire, Cradle of Filth, Yanni, Andres Segovia, and Death simultaneously. Actually, scratch what I said before. I know exactly what heavy metal is: heavy metal is whatever the hell it wants to be. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
GAAHLS WYRD – GASTIR – GHOSTS INVITED
released: March 24, 2019; Indie Recordings
When we last saw Gaahl, at least in a studio setting, he was lending his vocal stylings to Norwegian folk outfit Wardruna, a far cry from his earliest appearances showcasing a knack for adding dynamics to black metal vocals with Trelldom. Like a fine wine, Gaahl’s voice has aged well along the years, leaving a lasting impact on Gororoth’s discography before a nasty split and fight over the Gorgoroth name. What emerged was God Seed, with their sole full length, I Begin, taking the aggressiveness of Gorgoroth and pushing it into more progressive realms, incorporating keys and noise elements that further expanded the musicians’ interpretation of black metal. Gaahl’s vocals, while always dynamic in the scope of black metal, took on a new versatility, combining his throaty roars and snarling rasps with his bold, reverberating cleans.
Gaahl’s latest offering, the debut from the aptly named Gaahls WYRD, takes a slightly different tack. The vocal performance is more subdued, pairing well with the rich, smoky atmosphere of the music. While the song structures and even the riffs harken to fellow countrymen Enslaved’s more progressive transformation of the black metal genre, they are haunted by Gaahl’s channeling of Norse spirits, adding a filter of dark romanticism to the affair. Song titles like “Carving the Voices” seem to be a nod at Gaahl’s ability to seemingly sculpt ancient voices amongst the haze as the songs simmer and smoulder beneath the smoke. The record is almost mellow on the surface, but nonetheless carrying energy beneath the surface, building tension and relief on songs like “The Speech and the Self” or the more upfront energy (and arguably one of the most powerful riffs on the record) of “From the Spear.”
GastiR – Ghosts Invited plays out like a night in an isolated cabin in the depths of Norway, as strange, unexplainable events unfold beneath the mystical northern lights. While Gaahl’s vocal performance is an obvious highlight, it breathes life into an already impressive display of musicianship, working in tandem to create one of the more unexpectedly delightful black metal albums of the year thus far. [RYAN TYSINGER]
LAETITIA IN HOLOCAUST – FAUCI TRA FAUCI
released March 31, 2019; Third-I-Rex
Fauci tra fauci, the third full length from Italy’s Laetitia in Holocaust, is a quirky little record. It has a progressive-but-stripped down take on melodic black metal, which is nothing particularly new, but the quality of the songcraft and instantly appealing melodies mean that it sounds exactly like no one else.
There’s also a heightened sense of “artiness,” and if there’s one track that most represents the band’s mentality (if not sound), it might be the entirely unmetal “Exile,” four minutes of piano, singing, and fretless bass. It comes in the middle of the record and ups the artiness of the metal songs before and after. Not that the main songs lack this, however, as the band’s constantly shifting, melody driven, barely aggressive metal carries an air of sophistication and purpose, if not necessarily urgency. It’s a deliberate, at times casual album of blackened metal that feels almost alive, as if the intertwining guitar melodies and bass are each searching for the same destination via different paths. The vocals – haggard but carrying some emotional weight – never quite feel like the lead voice, merely a companion to these other sounds.
But as said, this thing is kinda quirky. The fretless bass is a big part of that, as melodic black metal doesn’t have the history of such a sound as say, progressive death metal, but it isn’t the only factor. There’s also the slightly rickety feel; the guitar tone is rather low gain, which exposes an occasional lack of tightness, while the drums have a touch of clickiness that on paper isn’t particularly fitting to the style. But in reality all this gives the record a charm it may have otherwise lacked. It feels as if it was recorded live by the band (an impossibility since there are more sounds than humans playing on it), and helps to give it a real human factor. Neat, kinda off-kilter stuff. [ZACH DUVALL]
EMBRIONAL – EVIL DEAD
released: January 3, 2019; independent / vinyl: June 17, 2019; Pagan Records
The original plan: start putting thoughts together regarding Embrional’s third full-length the moment a label (or distributor) announced its pending arrival. That was six months ago. SIX MONTHS. That announcement never came, and now Evil Dead has been roaming the streets (digitally) for nearly a month. Yep, that means the promo arrived very early (January 7th, to be precise), but it also demonstrates the following (unfortunate) truth: it’s incredibly difficult to find a good record deal in the modern age.
So, just who the hell is Embrional? Great question. And one I echoed back when Evil Dead first floated my direction all those months ago. In a few words, Embrional is a Polish death metal band. In a few more words, Embrional is a Polish death metal band that recently released an album that should probably be getting a lot more attention. This record delivers everything a fan of the “Polish death metal sound” should love: the perfect balance of aggression, complexity, melody, dissonance, speed and chug, and all of it swirled together with nary a hitch and under a comprehensive mood that bleeds “distress,” but in a way that’s perhaps surprisingly agreeable.
On the surface and during initial spins, Evil Dead passes by fairly quickly and might come across as a bit “meat and potatoes,” which, to be perfectly honest, it kind of is—Embrional ain’t here to reinvent the wheel. But anyone who has a familiarity with what their particular part of the world is capable of delivering from the death metal sphere—Vader, Behemoth, Decapitated and Azarath—knows that “meat and potatoes” from Poland has the potential to equate to a meal worthy of doing flips over. Given time and a mindful ear, listeners will find plenty of highlights in these 40 minutes deserving of acrobatics, particularly if you’re a death freak who’s grown a bit weary of endless cavernous death metal acts fronted by bog beasts.
Why Evil Dead remains an independent release (beyond a limited LP version via Poland’s Pagan Records) is a mystery, but what’s not surprising is the recent discovery that Embrional’s principal architect—guitarist / vocalist Marcin “Skullripper” Sienkiel—has recently been awarded a spot in the more widely known Azarath. If that’s the sort of news that grabs your attention, you should probably give Evil Dead some well deserved consideration. [CAPTAIN]