Brazil’s Outlaw adds new essential black metal to their canon with their third album, Reaching Beyond Assiah.
Outlaw started in São Paulo, Brazil in 2015, and they have already made an indelible impression on heavy music with their two previous albums and the 2021 EP Death Miasma. Mixing and merging traditional black metal formulations with more melodic passages and temperate stances, they have over the years, created music that is immediately recognizable. The band has seen a number of lineup shakeups, and now, according to The Metal Archives, is founder Daniel Souza (vocals, guitar), with Amilcar Rizk (bass) and Tommi Tuhkala (drums).
The first of seven songs on the new album is “Bliss of Soul.” The music rises from a deep pit, bursting to the surface with edges and spikes. After the initial flurry, the rhythm settles down into a steady crunch, punctuated by sudden eruptions. “To Burn This World And Dissolve The Flesh” is a charging attack from the beginning, and as the battle engages, the ferocity intensifies. In between the surges, the steady romp keeps the momentum headed in a determinable direction before and after the melancholic cooldown in the middle. “Beyond The Realms of God” holds a different mirror up at first. Quiet, pondering, lyrical. We know that can’t last, though, don’t we, and true to our expectations, the black metal standard takes the reigns. Excellent.
“The Unending Night” and “Everything That Becomes Nothing” sound very much like traditional formulations along genre lines while “The Serpent’s Chant” diverges notably in vocalizations and with a short, calm interlude. The final plank in the coffin is the album’s namesake, “Reaching Beyond Assiah.” This song encapsulates what the band stands for musically and can be taken as a wrap-up to the set and, more generally, a mission statement of the band. The melodic elements enhance the black metal underpinning here and throughout the record, elevating the compositions. Recommended.
Reaching Beyond Assiah is out on Friday, March 31st through AOP Records. In the US, Bandcamp is a good place to pick up the physicals.
Ruby The Hatchet made the journey north to perform at The Stone Church in Brattleboro, Vermont, as part of the Women’s History Month celebration.
As in previous years, “The Stone Church is hosting around a dozen shows featuring women-fronted bands for Grrrls to the Front, now a month-long series honoring all affected by gender inequity. At each event, Planned Parenthood and the Women’s Freedom Center will be available with a table and resources.” As part of this programming, Ruby The Hatchet headlined a show with four women-fronted bands at The Stone Church on Saint Patrick’s Day. It is an incredible venue that is exactly what it sounds like – an old stone church. The pews have been removed and a stage has been installed, but otherwise all the trappings of religiosity are present – stained glass windows, a balcony overlooking the hall, and even the bones of a pipe organ. It is a small, intimate place that is the perfect setting for heavy music.
The first band to play was Coma Hole, a two-piece doom band from Rhode Island that has been a around for a few years and released a self-titled EP last year. There seem to be a proliferation of duos in the past several years, more than I remember from days of yore. Bass-drum combos, like Coma Hole, are fairly common – Year of the Cobra is another example that comes to mind. Coma Hole expands the range of sound through the use of pedals, adding variety to the compositions and further enhancing the accompanying vocals. The format of the show allowed the early bands to play longer than you might normally expect, so the crowd got to hear about forty minutes of soaking doom.
Next up was a local band, Jeopardy. I have seen their music described as crossover thrash. I would add to that the label of beer punk, maybe. The crowd loved them, being familiar with their act, and there was a noticeable amount of communication between the stage and the room, including the hurling of beer cans now and then. The press blurb for the band reads, “We’re not here to impress anyone. We’re not here to raise the bar. We’re not here to be innovative. We[’]re here to drink beer and thrash.” Mission accomplished.
Ice Giant is an epic metal band from Massachusetts. Their debut album came out in 2017, Ice Giant, and they have been touring ever since. They are working on a new record now, and their set had material drawn from across their timeline. This is a band that has been honing their craft for quite a while, and their hard work shows in their performance. They operate in epic landscapes, and the temporal menace is a thrashing attack – an excellent array of big riffs and a towering sound. As with the first two bands, I had never seen Ice Giant before. It is always great to hear new music, but besides that, this show lineup has in common the fact that all the lead singers are women but otherwise the four acts play completely different kinds of music. It is a good mix.
The main reason I did make the journey to southern Vermont was to see Ruby The Hatchet, a band I have seen before many times, most recently last year at Psycho Las Vegas. They are a heavy psych band, one of my all-time favorites. Their latest album is Fear Is A Cruel Master, out now through Magnetic Eye Records.
Their set began with “Thruster,” and ran through many cuts from Cruel Master, along with a few recognizable songs from the past. I could listen to this band every week and still want to hear more. Jillian Taylor’s voice is both mesmerizing and commanding, and the full sound they get with the combination of guitar, keys, and the rhythm section is unmatched. Any chance you get to see them live is one you can’t pass by – drop everything and get to the show.
Ruby The Hatchet has a couple of shows coming up in April, at Underground Arts in Philly on the 12th and at the Anchor Rock Club in Atlantic City on the 22nd. They are on tour with Elder from May 3rd to June 3rd – check out the tour poster below for cities and dates, then grab your tickets before they are all gone.
Skeletons is the new album from Michigan rockers Pop Evil.
Pop Evil began in North Muskegon, Michigan more than twenty years ago. After years of hard work, they cracked into a stream of rising popularity kindled by their album Lipstick on the Mirror (2008). Five more records followed, and with touring and regular appearances at major festivals, their fanbase swelled rapidly. I first became impressed by the band seeing them live – they always put on a great show, and they were certainly a highlight of last year’s Blue Ridge Rock Festival. They play an approachable style of hard rock that has an irresistible appeal to a wide range of music fans. The band is Leigh Kakaty (vocals), Dave Grahs (guitar), Nick Fuelling (guitar), and Hayley Cramer (drums).
There are ten tracks on the new record, plus the short intro mood-setter bit, “Arrival,” which precedes the lead track, “Paranoid (Crash & Burn).” The opener lands with a hard pound. Catchy and interesting, it engages and gets you moving. The chorus is melodic and singable, and the lyrics are relatable. This one will be an anthem at live shows. Harsh crosscuts scintillate between the smoother moments, creating a perfect storm. This is a great opening song. “Circles” is next, an up tempo roller that is linear and on target. The structure is similar to the first song, but the composition operates in a narrower range, focusing on momentum. “Eye of The Storm” is a sonic stomper with extended levelling passages, and “Sound of Glory” is a short talkative piece that sets up the title track to close side one. “Skeletons” is more like a ballad than any of the others so far, but it has its hard edges, too.
Side two continues in the hard rocking framework set up on the first half. The songs feature guest appearances by members of Devour the Day, Zillion, and most notably for me, Ryan Kirby from Fit For A King who contributes to “Dead Reckoning,” one of my favorite songs on the album. The music on this record has a continual surging power and an indefatigable resilience that fans will love. Recommended.
Skeletons is out now through MNRK Heavy records, and is available everywhere, including through the links below.
Norwegian black metal band Mork stares into dark eternity with Dypet.
Mork is an incantation, or perhaps an avatar, of Thomas Eriksen, who himself is known far and wide for is work in heavy music. With Mork, Eriksen has released five previous albums, and a long string of EPs. Writing and recording is done entirely by Erickson. For live performances, The Metal Archives tells us he is joined by Alex Bruun (guitar), Rob (bass), and Daniel Minge (drums).
Talking about the new record, Eriksen states, “… the album title, which translates to “The Deep”, something from the depths has been brought to the surface, “Dypet” was inspired by my life over the last couple of years, the thoughts, feelings, passion and the evolving of creative free will.” Additionally, you hear deeply dark themes echoing the cover art that fit perfectly into black metal framing. “Using the Norwegian coastline as [its] setting, the artwork illustrates a mysterious cult that now worships the ‘Draugen’ (a mythical sea ghost in Norwegian lore) paying homage to the sea dwelling beast of Cthulhu.”
The set begins with “Indre Demoner.” It is like walking through a ruined churchyard in northern Europe. As you get closer to the main structure, your dread builds and you start to notice things that are not quite right. Continuing does not seem like a great idea, but it also dark behind you, so you walk on. Once the music gets rolling, it is surprisingly hooky, with a steady, noddable rhythm. The growling hiss of the vocals reminds you where you are, and even with the smooth production, the threat feels real. “Forfort Av Kulden” follows, balancing melody with sharp edges and a theatrical middle. “Svik” is a sorrowful piece that makes you think about how devastating it is when somebody does something wicked to you – this music captures that feeling exceptionally well.
What strikes me about this album is the combination of the depth of the sinister it is able to conjure and the approachability of the music. It is very unusual to generate such profound emotions of this sort in a relatable way. Songs like “Et Kall Fra Dypet” are musically harsher compared to others in the set, yet still they somehow are inviting – or maybe they are entrancing. I particularly appreciate “Avskum” which has such a deliciously dark cook to it, and the closer, “Tilbake Til Opprinnelsen,” is a mage’s spell told in a nightmare. Recommended.
Dypet is out on Friday, March 24th through Peaceville Records. Choose your path at the links below.
The debut album from Italian blackened death-doom band Aphotic is a mesmerizing trip into the unexplored, Abyssgazer.
Aphotic is a new band, coming together in 2020 when like-minded musicians from existing heavy groups decided they wanted to do something a bit different. To wit, they had the “intent of constructing world-building, deeply atmospheric death metal soundtracking a philosophical and eschatological concept revolving around the expansion and ultimate fate, and death, of our universe.” That is a tall order, but after listening to the album a couple of times, I think they might have done it.
“Endzeit I” is a short lead-in piece that sets up the first main song, “Spectral Degradation,” which begins with a barrage of battering percussion meant to knock you down, followed by a midtempo death metal assault that is dark, murky, and entirely satisfying. The sound of calling disembodied voices will live in your mind ever after. “Cosmivore” is tentative at first, but not for long. Interdimensional suffering can be heard and felt as the growling vocals carry the story forward. This is a heavy, monstrous song. “Deathward And Beyond” has a tilted doom framing. It is a completely different beast.
After another interlude, the second triplet begins with the title track, “Abyssgazer,” a mystical entreaty. The swirling, swarming voices are in full force, and they menace the trudging doom. Excellent. “Horizonless” is a high-energy assault with masterful layers and sagacity, while “Depths Call Depths” is more of a soldiering rumbler, getting the job done with force and dread resolve. After a final interlude (which is the most disturbing of the three by far), the ending appears: “Chasmous.” Enchantingly gloomy, this one resonated most with me, although the entire set is excellent. This album is my first time listening to Aphotic – it is their debut, after all – and now they have my attention. Recommended.
Abyssgazer is out in all the usual formats on Friday, March 24th through Sentient Ruin Laboratories in the US, and Nuclear Winter Records in Europe. You can order your preferred format at the links below.
Funeral doom band Woe Unto Me investigate sorrow on their third full-length album, Along the Meandering Ordeals, Reshape the Pivot of Harmony.
Woe Unto Me formed in Belarus in 2007. Their music is fascinating for the surprisingly variety of influences it reflects – after all, funeral doom does not often stretch out in many directions. One of the driving forces of Woe Unto Me, Artyom Serdyuk, describes the album this way: “Musically the new record is the continuation of our movement into more progressive realms of doom metal. This is not a typical funeral doom or death-doom, but it contains the elements of all kinds of doom metal sub-genres.” Indeed. The variety of vocal presentations alone is impressive and unmatched by other bands. Yes, this one is something different.
The album has five long tracks, all individually over twelve minutes in length. “Mired Down In The Innermost Thicket” – the title describes the music well. You do feel caught in the opening bars of the music, mired. You want to move, you are trying, but you are held down. Sorrow and sadness surrounds you, and that is why you want to get away, but then you can only see more sorrow in every direction. How much better off will you really be over there? The songs show off the vocal range of the group with melodic and rough vocalizations, spoken and sung emanations. It is a darkly beautiful piece. “Spiral-Shaped Hopewreck” brings melodic singing out first, and the pace is greater at the beginning than the previous track. Prog elements become clear in this one, and it has a genuinely haunting cooldown at the end. “Deep Beneath The Burden” walks an odd line, with lashing waves of sound pulsating all around such soft and gentle primaries. It mixes your feelings, leaving them all there individually and at the same time requiring them to relate to each other.
“Blood-Black Nothingness Stops Spinning” invokes notions of quest and spiritual deliberations. The music turns darker a few minutes in, and the permeating doom returns, as you knew it would. The final movement is “The Great Waste Of Withered Pipedreams.” To me, the music in this piece is the most actively menacing. It is unsettling, even frightening. The elements we have experienced before return, but they are armed differently, shrouded more darkly. I like every song on the album, and this last one is my favorite. The doom I hear on this record is different than what I am accustomed to, and its dark appeal will have a lasting impact. Highly recommended.
Along the Meandering Ordeals, Reshape the Pivot of Harmony is out on Friday, March 24th through M-Theory Audio. Have a look at the links below.
Canadian epic metal band Gatekeeper bring forth the wonder once again on From Western Shores.
Guitarist Jeff Black started Gatekeeper as a solo project in 2009. Steeped in the quality of life that western Canada provides, Black set to work on epic melodic metal compositions, turning out over the years many EPs and splits, along with the full-length album East Of Sun in 2018. The band roster has changed considerably as time passed, and for the new album, Jeff Black is joined by Tyler Anderson (vocals), Adam Bergen (guitar, choir), David Messier (bass, choir), and Thomas Torma (drums).
“From Western Shores” sounds like the beginning of something big. The composition is dramatic and seasoned with exotic tinges. Soaring vocals and razor-sharp execution is the mainstay, gearing up for a journey told in music. “Death On Black Wings” is the first confrontation with violence and the energy and tone is appropriately adjusted. You can hear it in the vocals and the expressive lead guitar lines that sound like battles themselves. “Shadow And Stone” is quieter and reflective, pushing in the folk metal direction and passing by the valley of the power ballad. “Exiled King” is somber and sad in its sound and intimations. It is reflective, as we might expect given the title. The music becomes more forceful as the song progresses, suggesting the possibility of resolution.
The second half opens on “Nomads.” The beginning riff is enticingly stabby, tempered by the rollick in the rhythm section. The windswept middle of the song is a mysterious entanglement. “Twisted Towers” is positively peppy, almost a radio tune. Presumably, this song is the direct inspiration for the cover painting (or vice versa). There are some nice, gritty rock passages tucked away in here. “Desert Winds” reëstablishes a serious musical posture leading into the epic closer and namesource, “Keepers Of The Gate.” The metal here is larger than life, as it is meant to be. There is a long and satisfying cooldown so you can put what you have just experienced into perspective. Well done all around. Recommended.
From Western Shores finds broad release on Friday, March 24th through Cruz Del Sur Music. You can get the physicals at the links below.