Catching up: Agrimonia, Earthen Grave, Suns Of Thyme

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the following albums from Agrimonia, Earthen Grave, Suns Of Thyme

The last few months have been hectic, what with recording and releasing the first Djinn & Miskatonic album, and I have a number of album reviews pending. I’m going to do a few shorter, but hopefully equally useful reviews until I’ve caught up with the backlog.

1. Agrimonia – Rites of Separation (Southern Lord)

Gotherburg crust/sludgers Agrimonia’s sophomore effort, ‘Host of the Winged’ was one of the most dense and relentlessly intense releases in this space in 2010. Particularly with the modern US sludge scene dwindling away on the trail of accessibility, it’s heartening to see that, on ‘Rites of Separation’, Agrimonia continue to practice the art of adding melody and expansiveness to their sound without compromising on the sheer weight of negativity their tutelary genres are supposed to embody. Christina’s vocals are harsh litanies of acrimony, guitarists Pontus (also in the excellent OSDM band Miasmal) and Magnus unleash a range of six-string-soundscapes that maintain the pressure while exploring almost post-metal like whorls and tides of sound and melody. The 5 songs  here are all generally of epic length, and the layered, lush yet corrosive sound is augmented by thoughtfully positioned keyboard layers contributed by Christina. She even contributes gentle piano lines – piano on a crusty sludge record! – which only add another element of contrast and cohesion to Agrimonia’s arsenal. Martin’s bass work is especially effective at bringing in dolorous, droning undercurrents in the more introspective sections and Bjorn, who also plays for Miasmal, anchors the sound with his incisive, dynamic drum work. This one is up there with Kongh’s ‘Sole Creation’ and Primitive Man’s ‘Scorn’ as one of the most crushingly massive releases of the year from the sludgier side of the tracks, but that heaviness is only furthered by the moments of melodic reflectiveness that are interspersed throughout the album.

2. Earthen Grave – S/T (Ripple Music)

The band’s stated genre is doom/thrash and I was curious to see how they would make that work. Mainly they’ve taken the crunch of thrash and some of its more mid-tempo aspects and melded it to a histrionic, melodic, traditional doom framework. This isn’t miles away from how Trouble (which is bassist Ron Holzner’s alma mater, after all) always brought the doom without being overtaken by the pace and energy of their coevals in the thrash scene – nothing here will be mistaken for an Exodus outtake. Instead we have songs that are long on melody, augmented by generous lashings of violin, and can move from moody, slow passages to 8th-note grooves with pounding drums and chugging power chord riffs. The band’s musicianship is top-notch but I found the vocals a shade too grungy at times, which is a shame because Mark Weiner does a mean Eric Wagner when the mood catches him, such as on the magnificent ‘Tilted World’. Violinist Rachel Barton Pine’s contributions go well beyond simple layering or novelty interludes, perfectly meshing with the seasoned doom-mongering of the rest of the band. The end result is a sound that makes the band a natural addition to the front row of classic American doom bands. Certainly, their decision to include two classic doom covers in their debut offering (a great version of ‘Burning A Sinner’ which makes the Witchfinder General sound more like Trouble and a cover of Pentagram’s ‘Relentless’ which sees Weiner apparently channeling the vocal stylings of Wino) shows how closely this band identifies with the history of the doom genre, but doesn’t capture the variety and lush romanticism of the music on offer here, which isn’t just limited to retreading what has gone before.

3. Suns of Thyme – Fortune, Shelter, Love and Cure (Electric Magic)

Kraut is alive, and it’s got shoes. While Samsara Blues Experiment purveys the darker end of the modern kraut spectrum, their scene-mates and countrymen, Suns Of Thyme have a more airy sound, less grueling, more filigreed and bright-eyed. There is a sense of wide-open spaces and endless, ecstatic jamming in these songs, but there is also a certain serene contemplativeness underlying the psychedelic excursions. These songs are also decidedly concise, with running times in the 3-4 minute range most of the time. It’s kraut crossed with shoegaze: shimmering guitars, motorik jams and hazy vocals intertwining to form a dreamlike, propulsive sound. Everything here, especially the voice, sounds like it has been slathered in layers of glistening star-stuff (not to mention delay), and while individual songs do not jump out at you on initial listens, there are enough way-out bits and shimmering, melodic passages to make this album a pleasant excursion down the river of Lethe, the sonic equivalent of a kaleidoscope held to the eyes on a warm summer afternoon.

And that’s it from me for now – stay tuned for a couple more catch-up posts this week!

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Djinn and Miskatonic – Forever in the Realm

Achintya Venkatesh reviews the new album released by Djinn & Miskatonic titled Forever in the Realm, released via Transcending Obscurity India.

Djinn and MiskatonicArtwork by Nicolas Huck

Tracklisting
1. 7 Year Witch (11:37)
2. Book of the Fallen (08:37)
3. Vulcan’s Forge (04:54)
4. Voice from the Tomb (00:58)
5. Weird Tales (16:56)

Doom metal is a style that is still relatively foreign in the embryonic metal ‘scene’ and its enthusiasts in the subcontinent, and the past few years have seen the rise of a few bands playing around with the genre, which has at the very least brought to fore the existence and awareness of this slower side of extreme metal. This has always been overshadowed by the more dominant, velocity-fuelled side of things regardless of geographic location. Doom metal has trodden a variety of paths since its inception during the zenith of Black Sabbath and the then incipient Pentagram and similar bands, and has thereon gone onto spawn forth a variety of stylistic derivatives. While not all of these are congruent with the proto-type of the genre, perhaps the most obvious commonality all these aural offspring have is their lumbering pace and crushing minimalism. If Bevar Sea presented the more jammy, convivial side of Bangalore’s nascent doom/stoner movement (if one could call it that), and Dying Embrace the monstrous local overlords of the death/doom mould, then Djinn and Miskatonic present a more reticent, sedated and punctilious position that is more thematically focused and staid. The band name’s etymology is an open exaltation to their thematic inspirations, ranging from classic horror to weird fiction, à la H.P Lovecraft. The name is a play on the gin and tonic cocktail – djinn being the Qur’anic equivalent of genies and Miskatonic being a fictional university, featured in a series of stories in the Lovecraftian mythos.

Forever in the Realm’, the band’s debut album after being active for around two years as a live band, merges a variety of these styles into its creative mould – primarily traditional doom in the vein of Trouble and Saint Vitus with very healthy doses of more jammy, stoner influences – think Electric Wizard and Sleep, and even hints of death/doom and sludge metal. The introduction of a guitarist in the band in turn omitted the more drone-driven, spacey quality that the band previously exhibited, and this is certainly evident in the album. ‘7 Year Witch’ is the tone setter of this record and opens with a direfully commanding spoken word about the depravity that is witchcraft, and soon descends into an infectious riff that is rather standard by doom norms but enjoyable nevertheless. The vocal approach is something one immediately takes note of, and showcases a wide range of styles that cover everything from impassioned warbles to harsher growls. The leads are laden with striving lead work that is reminiscent of Dave Chandler or even Tony Iommi. The band drops a bombshell with a bombastic, groove-laden, thrashing segment that I’ve often observed is an additive to the dynamics of the band’s sound in a live setting, and it is no different on record. ‘Book of the Fallen’ brings to fore a more robust facet of the band – the pace is almost marching in a sense and the entire mode of action is far more menacing than foreboding. It certainly isn’t devoid of coercive doom segments, which have some excellent melodies that are complimented by befittingly clean vocals working in congruence with the aforementioned leads.

The track that follows, ‘Vulcan’s Force’ enters the realm of dark humour and surrounds alcoholic excesses and consequential contemplation on the futility of existence. The guitars take a step back and make way for more fuzz-driven, baritonal bass work. The ritualistic electronic/ambient track ‘Voice from the Tomb’ serves as an interlude of sorts that features undecipherable waves of spoken word from the deepest crypts. ‘Weird Tales’ is the goliathan track of the album and is in a sense a summation of the various elements that forms the Djinn and Miskatonic creative canvas, channeling the bizarre, abstruse and esoteric. Dismal, cheerless and creeping bass-lines bleed into guitar riff-led dawdling, with tempo changes and vocal modulation aplenty.

The charm of this release essentially lies in its sensibly primal minimalism. Axe-man Sriram K.R’s presence in the band has turned its sound into something less befogged and more monolithic, while Jayaprakash Satyamurthy’s bass work is likely to seem drowned out to the casual listener courtesy of the dominating guitars. However, a seasoned listener of the heavier side of music will quite easily be able to construe the bass-lines, which serve to illuminate and accentuate the riff in focus. A casual enthusiast need not fret apropos this nebulosity; as fuzzed out, solo bass guitar segments are ample which successfully throw light on this highly imperative instrumental facet of these droning-doomoid rockers. The bass work could perhaps be compared to the likes of Tim Bagshaw, who is known to alternate between bone-crushing dirges and spaced out, yet jammy elegies. The guitar tone is satisfactory, and is sufficient to please the seasoned doomster, while not scaring away the casual listener either. Siddharth Manoharan’s percussive dexterity is solid and handles tempo changes with ease, and certainly brings in some enjoyable grooves and fills into the compositions. Gautham Khandige’s vocal style is rather unique, at least going by the little knowledge I possess of the genre, and invokes sonorous theatrics, aural timidity and harshness at desirable and appropriately opportune times. If a comparison is a must, I would liken his vocal approach to the likes of, say, Scott Reagers, who had excellent operatic/clean vocal abilities and yet had an enjoyable dissonance to his voice that made Saint Vitus all the more unusual and noteworthy. Yet at times, the more harsh vocals are eerily similar to Lee Dorrian of Cathedral (circa Forest of Equilibrium era).

The cover artwork, conceptualized and furnished by Nicolas Huck is impressive, and envisages a sense of otherworldly allure and fantasy. In summation, ‘Forever in the Realm’ is an effort that certainly impressions upon one, and is unique in a variety of ways, although it doesn’t impart anything very groundbreaking stylistically sans the welding of the various sub-genres of the greater doom sphere. But it would be unfair to view it purely from a genre-specific angle, and one should take into account the demographics of the band’s local scene, and in that light the band is certainly a unique force, and is hopefully one of many such releases from the area.

Lord Dying – Summon the Faithless

Mohammad Kabeer reviews the debut album from Lord Dying titled Summon the Faithless, released via Relapse Records.

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1. In a Frightful State of Gnawed Dismemberment (5:10)
2. Summoning the Faithless (4:43)
3. Greed Is Your Horse (4:41)
4. Descend into External (4:53)
5. Dreams of Mercy (4:58)
6. Perverse Osmosis (4:03)
7. Water Under a Burning Bridge (4:52)
8. What Is Not…Is (6:33)

Relapse Records have played a huge role in supporting the contemporary sludge metal scene. All of the great bands that today’s generation associates sludge with have been a part of this roster. Baroness, Kylesa, Mastodon and of course the band which partly sowed the seeds of this genre, Neurosis, comes to mind. Another band, which has now joined these names, is Lord Dying.

Lord Dying is a four piece from Portland Oregon, and their music can be best described as simple straightforward sludge metal and that’s pretty much it really. These guys take the best from what’s already been done and apply it to a much more simpler, a somewhat more mid tempo format. There are tracks here that do flirt with other genres such as Greed is your Horse, which sounds like a cross between something Portal would do and traditional doom, and Perverse Osmosis, the starting of which is very powerviolence-ish , but  mostly  the band stays directly under the shadow of sludge.

However that being said, they do stay firmly attached to their roots. For this album  has everything a good sludge metal, should  have ,  really dirty heavy guitar riffs, a very detailed yet heavy drum sound,  and  changing dynamics  between  massive guitar chugs and a more overdriven hard rock style, which makes this a fun album. Although not revolutionary by any means, this will definitely stay in my playlist for those times when I want to hear something a bit off kilter than the usual grind routine. I wouldn’t really recommend this to people who are new to sludge but avid sludge fans should definitely lap this up.

Stream the entire album below

Reino Ermitaño – Veneración del Fuego

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Reino Ermitaño titled Veneración del Fuego , released via I Hate Records.

Reino-Ermitaño-Veneración-del-Fuego

Tracklist:
1. Quimera 09:19
2. El Sueño del Condor 04:50
3. Sobre las Ruinas 06:21
4. Desangrándote 06:29
5. Cuando la Luz te Encuentre 09:03
6. Soy el Lobo 06:19
7. El Rito 08:20
8. Vente al Fuego 05:02
9. Sangre India 09:44
10. Cadáver, Semilla, Renacer 01:16

Pre-dating the recent trend of female-fronted doom bands by a decade, Peru’s Reino Ermitano have been flying the flag of fuzzy, riff-driven, mystical doom metal since their formation in 2001. I am not familiar with their back catalogue, having only heard their sophomore release, ‘Brujas del Mar’, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I loaded their new CD into my player.

First of all, there’s the guitar tone – thick, heavy and with a satisfying backwash of fuzz. The bass tone is more glassy than I favour for doom, but blends nicely with the guitar. The drums aren’t a standout element, but they get the job done. The riffing clearly draws from traditional doom motherlodes – some Cathedral, traces of Saint Vitus and Pentagram, a dose of Wino worship, and a general atmosphere of lugubrious, mystical ritual. Need I mention that there’s some Sabbath in the mix? The vocals are sonorous, haunting, somewhat straightforward but very effective. The fact that I don’t understand the language the lyrics are penned in perhaps adds a touch of exotic mystery to the whole production, although it is not too hard to piece together the meanings of things  like the album title or song titles like ‘Quimera’, ‘El Rito’ or ‘Sangre India’. Or maybe it’s just that I’ve watched a lot of horror films from South American countries.

The songs here tend towards the drawn-out, with an average running length of around 7 minutes, but they never feel excessive. While the feel is pretty constant from start to finish, and the band doesn’t indulge in shifts for their own sake, there are enough distinctive and memorable sections sequences into each track to keep it interesting. The band strikes a happy balance between the sense of iterative stasis that is so crucial to true doom music and the dynamism without which that music can become a mere exercise in funereal texture with no real tension or allure. And solos of the quality and length of the one that stabs in around the 7-minute mark in ‘Quimera’ ensure that there is a payoff for the listened who has weathered the tectonic drift of Reino Ermitano’s songs.

Other standout moments are the keening, droning guitar textures on ‘El Sueño del Condor’, reminiscent of the more atmospheric expanses of certain death metal bands, when they slow it down, the swirling, Candlemass-goes-to-NOLA riff that opens ‘Desangrándote’, the elegiac violin solo on ‘Cuando la Luz te Encuentre’, or the epic ‘Sangre India’.

This one deserves to make it to more than a few best doom of the year lists. A strong, dynamic offering from a band that has honed its craft and is sure of the musical statement it is making.

Stream the entire album below:

Jex Thoth – Blood Moon Rise

Jayaprakash Satyamurthy reviews the new album from Jex Thoth titled Blood Moon Rise, released via I Hate Records.

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TRACKLIST

1. To Bury 02:54
2. The Places You Walk 05:05
3. The Divide 06:38
4. Into A Sleep 04:07
5. And The River Ran Dry 01:13
6. Keep Your Weeds 05:50
7. Ehjä 08:17
8. The Four Of Us Are Dying 03:59
9. Psyar 08:33

In the time since their debut release, Jex Thoth’s entire line-up has changed, save for the eponymous frontwoman. Despite this, there’s a remarkable continuity style in their releases, hinting at Jex’s total dominance over the band’s sound. Lush, mellow and haunting soundscapes, sinuous, melodic guitar lines and a certain folksy, ritualistic vibe – all the same elements are in place, and looming large over all of them is that voice, surely one of the finest in the whole female-fronted doom/occult rock scene.

Personally, I find Jex Thoth’s sound just a bit lacking in edge – I prefer her Sabbath Assembly project – but there’s no denying that this album is a fine collection of songs. To my ears, it lacks something in the quality of the individual songs, with nothing approaching the majesty of ‘Warrior Woman’ or the sprawl of the Equinox Suite, highlights of the debut album. Indeed, the first two tracks seem to flash by before they have time to fully develop, and this seems to be the case again with a later song, ‘The Four Of Us Are Dying’. The ominous strains of ‘The Divide’ are a highlight with its keening organ and ultra-doomy guitars. ‘Keep Your Weeds’ is another stand out, with a mesmerizing vocal and gorgeous interwoven guitar and organ lines. ‘Ehja’ is possibly the centerpiece of the album, an extended, traditional doom-influenced track that provides Jex with ample space to weave her shadowed tales.

‘Psyar’, another epic track, closes out the album. Its overall atmosphere is mysterious, velvety and darkly inviting, with an epic guitar solo, yet somehow the specifics feel a bit too static, a little lacking in granularity, and that’s the charge I’d level against the whole album. It’s superb mood music, great for lulling yourself into a sort of psychedelic-spacey-paganistic trance, but there aren’t enough memorable tunes or stand-out instrumental passages. It’s a fantastic backdrop, but the details often don’t really resolve on close scrutiny. It’s still a fine album for what it is, of course and might even be one of your favorites of the year if you’re not looking for what it doesn’t offer and are into all the many pleasures it does contain.