A long time ago in this very same galaxy, Last Rites was a website named MetalReview, and for several of MetalReview’s early years, the policy was to review everything that was sent our way. Like a zine version of Ash Ketchum, we threw all that stuff into the Poké Ball that was our pre-Wordpress site and churned out countless reviews. We simply had to catch them all. Every CD-R demo that was mailed to the official website PO Box. Every upstart that recorded an album at home and emailed us MP3s. Every album from Roadrunner even if it meant early Nickelback.
Those days are long gone, mostly because we’re all older and busier than we used to be, but also because we’ve realized spending more time with the things we truly find interesting does more service to the music, not to mention our ears. This is why Last Rites is typically/hopefully a one-article-per-day place these days.
Because we aren’t still trying to catch them all, and also (mostly) because of the older/busier aspects, some of that stuff we find truly interesting gets passed by during its typical press window. So once a year we try to do less of a catch ‘em all and more of a catch ‘em up, unloading a bunch of mini reviews of albums we dig a ton that we missed the first time around. We’ll be doing this all week, so stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3, wontcha?
VOID ‒ THE HOLLOW MAN
released February 26; Duplicate Records
As your pal (and mine) Ryan (plus some dead ol’ ding-dong named Shakespeare) recently asked (about Darkthrone’s latest): What’s in a name? In the case of the UK’s avantgarde black metal band Void, clearly nothing at all. A total absence. A lack. An empty space. (Thanks, folks, and please tip your wait staff.) The Hollow Man is only Void’s third album since debuting on Nocturnal Art Productions in 2003, and it comes a full ten years after their last full-length. If anything, the intervening time seems to have dialed up the wild-eyed tumult of the band’s chaotic, anything-goes approach, and as such, The Hollow Man is Void’s most stylistically wide-ranging album. A concept album based loosely on T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Hollow Men,” the album careens from spooky spoken word to razor-sharp, industrial-leaning black metal, and from eerie, neoclassical soundtrack passages to broken-beat electronic flourishes (often in the span of a single song). The bang and the whimper both at once, as it were.
A certain indulgence of musical high theatrics is likely necessary to appreciate fully what Void has laid down here, but between the head-spinning fireworks and left-fieldisms (e.g., sampling Gene Wilder’s tunnel song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on the aptly titled “A Mental Break”), there are more than enough punishingly fleet tremolo runs and machine-augmented blasts to satisfy your baser cravings. You ought to know in advance something close to what you’re getting yourself into on a harrowing, madcap album like this, but if a map plotted with the coordinates of Arcturus’s La Masquerade Infernale, Ulver’s Perdition City, Code’s Resplendent Grotesque, The Axis of Perdition’s Deleted Scenes from the Transition Hospital, and A Forest of Stars’s A Shadowplay for Yesterdays sounds like just the destination for you, then The Hollow Man is well worth the sacrifice of your sanity. Truly a ferocious, seething, unsettlingly teeth-rattling album. [DAN OBSTKRIEG]
MESHUM ‒ ENIGMATIC EXISTENTIAL ESSENCE
released April 20; New Standard Elite
Meshum is the sole product of Ankara, Turkey’s Erkin Öztürk, and while he doesn’t add much new to the brutal death arena, he delivers his tunes with such headbutting aplomb and violent glee that it’s pretty hard to ignore debut Enigmatic Existential Essence. Much of the album is a combination of twitchy-tech riffs, gurgling gutturals, smartass squeals, well-timed slams, and the essential trash can snare blasts (as is tradition), but where Meshum really excels is in all the groove and the type of near-industrial death metal riffs that can move asses without the assistance of other instrumentation.
Öztürk is also pretty adept at delivering each element of his music. The drumming spends most of the time in hyperblast mode but isn’t without some nuance (especially when a riff pattern repeats itself several times); the bass isn’t exactly Alex Webster, but it adds a huge amount of bottom end and the featured moments are super fun; and the riffs, while often repetitive by design, manage to be both quite infectious and utterly punishing. (Look no further than the squeal-a-thon in “Enthrallment Through Excruciation” for how oddly catchy this album can be.)
This record is also obscenely heavy, even for a genre as colossally loaded with mass as brutal death metal. When Meshum finds a reason to get extra weighty ‒ like during the slow/slam section of “Eerie Engravings in Coagulated Deliriums” ‒ this record ought to shake your foundations (if it doesn’t, check your volume). When that section goes down a few more BPM? Someone is tossing asteroids at the Earth.
If the idea of peak Decapitated filtered through the mechanical vibes of Wormed sounds good, give this a listen. If the idea of peak Decapitated filtered through the mechanical vibes of Wormed releasing an album suitable for New Standard Elite’s roster sounds even better, you 100 percent need this in your ears. [ZACH DUVALL]
TODD LATORRE ‒ REJOICE IN THE SUFFERING
released February 5; Rat Pak Records
These days, I’m kind of a Todd LaTorre fanboy. Yes, yes, I know it’s not entirely truthful to say that, when Todd took over the vocalist position in Queensrÿche, he singlehandedly rejuvenated one of my all-time favorite bands, because obviously there are four other people in that band, two of whom are original members, and all of whom contributed creatively to the three records that they’ve released together since. Or maybe there’s three other people in that band now, depending on how the drummer situation resolves. Or maybe there’s only three people total, and one of them isn’t Todd… if you ask Scott Rockenfield.
Which is why I didn’t ask Scott Rockenfield, whatever may be happening with him and his Rockenryche 2021. We finally got past the point of having two Queensrÿches before, and now maybe we’re back there again? I dunno…
So, yeah, whoever’s technically in the band, I don’t really know. But I also don’t really care, because what I do know is that those three most recent Queensryche records have been the best the band has released since the very early 90s, throwbacks to the classic days when the band could do very little wrong, and proving that, even without DeGarmo and Tate, the ‘Ryche still reigns. Furthering my excitement, each successive record is better than the last, indicating that the new line-up is truly jelling. (And there’s a new record in the works, praised be.)
What I also know is that I’m not writing about Queensrÿche here, even if, well, so far that’s all I’ve done. So, back on track: In the lost year of 2020, the good Mr. LaTorre used his sudden free time to write and record Rejoice In The Suffering, his first solo effort, and though it’s definitely a different type of beast than his work within the ‘Ryche, it’s nevertheless possessed with the same energy. This particular Suffering is a power/trad offering, with only hints of the progressive, more in line with a Vicious Rumors or a modern Judas Priest record. LaTorre’s voice reflects the shift, utilizing the Tate-like croon from time to time, but leaning farther into the Halford / Dane falsettos and a biting, snarling, more aggressive midrange. He’s one hell of a vocalist, and Rejoice In The Suffering hammers that home across its ten tracks (or thirteen, if you’re smart and get the version with bonus tracks).
And of course, here as in his primary outfit, the credit isn’t entirely all Todd’s, even if it’s his name on the cover. Rejoice was co-produced and co-written by guitarist / bassist Craig Blackwell, who’s stepped up to the plate and turned in a strong set of power / trad tracks that often push against a nearly thrash intensity. From the opening rager of “Dogmata” through “Hellbound And Down” (there’s a modern Priest title for you) and the moody ballad “Crossroads To Insanity,” Rejoice In The Suffering shows that LaTorre can bring the goods, inside the ‘Ryche or not. Keep ’em coming. [ANDREW EDMUNDS]
PUPIL SLICER ‒ MIRRORS
released March 12; Trepanation Recordings and Prosthetic Records
Much like Job For A Cowboy before them, Pupil Slicer landed on their name in jest and ended up stuck with it after receiving some positive attention for their work. What isn’t a joke, however, is the exceptional quality, heft and palpably emotive nature of the music this London three-piece has created in the form of their debut album Mirrors. This wild 38-minute concoction of musical Molotovs was born from a grind mentality and funneled into 12 biting clinics in controlled yet emotional chaos, like early Converge with a significant dose of Calculating Infinity and just enough electronic effects to make Car Bomb look up from their guitars set to phaser.
They’re just as likely to unleash pure hell in the form of a blistering 47-second song like “Stabbing Spiders” as they are to explore with a plodding bass in a song like “Mirrors Are More Fun Than Television,” which is nearly seven minutes in length. What’s even better is that regardless of runtime, any single song could run the gamut of synapse-snapping madness to introspective space. “Interlocuter” starts with hideous staccato notes and unhinged vocals ravenously barking over the top, but ends with a guitar line that perpetually slows down until it’s a single ringing note and that all happens in a barely over a minute.
What truly helps Pupil Slicer separate from the pack are the vocals and lyrics of guitarist Kate Davies. There’s a genuine sense of agony that comes through her delivery, and not only when she’s hitting the truly intense passages making sounds that one would assume could only come from a person with a car battery hooked to their nipples. Her lyrics tackle self-harm, discrimination, extreme anxiety, persecution from religious figures, and a number of other intense topics. The insert reads like pages from a personal journal, but with the ability to make the feelings general enough to be relatable to anyone who has even passing experience with the concepts discussed.
Lyrics like these are at once timely and sadly evergreen making for one hell of a listen:
“Ignorance breeds extremity, inaction ends lives.
Conditioned from childhood into this faith.
Frame the vulnerable as the aggressor and the victim as the perpetrator.
An outlook bred from fear, reluctance to understand.”
YOTH IRIA ‒ AS THE FLAME WITHERS
released January 25; Pagan Records
Without delay, a grim confession: I have fallen moderately out of love with black metal over the course of the last few years. For the longest time I felt this was simply another case of “It’s not you, it’s me,” but I’ve since come to discover that both parties share an equal portion of the blame—some sort of unlucky combination of me growing lazy and an over saturation by middling competitors delivering either interminably crummy counterfeits or offerings so far removed that one can’t help but wonder why the words “black metal” even get involved in the first place.
This isn’t to say it’s all crap, of course—far from it. But the amount of machete work required to reveal some level of payoff in the modern age that fits my impractical requirements is too overwhelming, so I’ve basically pushed the bulk of it aside. What still gets an extremely consistent fair shake, however, is the Hellenic side of the coin, thanks to the assuredness that so many of the Greek bands—from the unknowns to the renowned—choose to celebrate the roots of traditional heavy metal just as much as they do the forebears of black metal. Try to push at me with yet another “no lives matter” slant and I will fall asleep at the wheel, but give me a band that finds ways to infuse the same melody that breathed life into classics from groups such as Savatage and Manilla Road into the classic black metal blueprint and I very well might hold them up to the populace like Mufasa presenting Simba.
For their part, Yoth Iria put forward a bloodline that’s damn near impossible to ignore: Founding members George “The Magus” Zacharopoulos (vocals) and Dimitris “Jim Mutilator” Patsouris (bass) count crucial bands such as Rotting Christ, Necromantia and Thou Art Lord as foundations, and the material they produce through Yoth Iria is…well, yeah, quite different compared to their other outlets. It’s still very much Hellenic black metal, but As the Flame Withers underscores the insanely catchy, melodic end of the recipe to the point where it almost feels necessary to investigate whether or not Ice Dale suddenly decided to set up an incredibly soaring Airbnb inside your speakers.
And who is responsible for this absurdly melodic attack on the senses? Why, none other than…uh…a guy named George Emmanuel, who’s credited as a guest musician here. If you’re like me, you’ve never heard of George Emmanuel, and that’s likely because his role is largely fulfilled behind the scenes as an engineer responsible for mixing, mastering and tweaking, which is also the case for As the Flame Withers. The great news: He’s a HELL of a guitarist. The equally great news: He’s now the new guitarist for Necromantia as well, who also have a new album due in 2021. Over and above the preposterous amount of melody he adds to the record, Emmanuel’s knob-twiddling brings a sheen to the songs that feels almost outlandish at first blush, as Hellenic black metal doesn’t often arrive with the sort of glow you’d expect from, say, Melechesh. But holy hell does it ever work here.
I hesitate to assert that As the Flame Withers exemplifies black metal “for those who need a little break from black metal’s characteristic tropes,” but it certainly does hold that sort of potential. In spite of this, the songs still manage deliver all the wickedness and snaking, poisonous atmosphere we’ve come to expect from the Greek side of the scene, so it successfully occupies multiple realms without ever wandering too far into either. In short, Yoth Iria have delivered something that’s unique and notably appropriate for those who count impressive melody in black metal as priority one—certainly a record that should not be allowed to fall through the cracks in 2021. [CAPTAIN]