In the early hours of dawn, a motley crew of marauders arrived unannounced at the Sleeping Village, swords and pillaging spirits raised high. After burning the church & slaughtering our swine, they demanded what they so desperately sought...our 5-star albums. “Give us your all-time favorites,” they roared, “so that we may judge your taste.” And so, to save our own lives, we complied, casting open the reliquary. Avert your eyes in the presence of perfection & cue the air raid siren: Ed the Head is up first.
Iron Maiden is one of the (very) few bands in my repertoire that has reached exalted perfection across the span of multiple albums. A Matter of Life and Death, their 14th album, is certainly the best of their efforts post-reunification. Recorded in-studio without mastering, this (and by “this,” I mean the pre-remaster edition) feels & sounds like the real deal. Blemishes are not plastered over, &, more importantly, Bruce’s voice is allowed the natural space to flow with an intimate dynamism. The choruses of tracks such as For the Greater Good of God display an energy and sincerity seldom found outside a live environment. The raw production plays directly into the hands of Maiden’s greatest assets, allowing flawless songwriting to shine. It’s like a found footage film--rough around the edges, but utterly immersive in an unadulterated way.
The album fires off with Different World, which is perhaps the most traditional Maiden track found within. The first side is largely this category: fired-up runaway train guitar & bass, with the trademark vocals soaring. Track length, as Maiden has proven in the past (Book of Souls notwithstanding, who dropped the ball on that one?) is not necessarily an Achilles heel. Look to both These Colours Don’t Run & Brighter than a Thousand Suns, the former of which has a riff that earworms with the best of them, & the latter, which has it all--trademark galloping riffage, sweet melody, & a Dickenson chorus for the ages. Easily one of my favorite Maiden tracks period, and with a band whose discography oozes single after quality single, that’s no small compliment.
Side B presents a slightly proggier approach, including highlights such as acoustically dependent closer The Legacy & the aforementioned For the Greater Good of God, with its refrain of godlike proportion. Again, individual song length, while significant, never appears an issue. The songwriting never allows for a stale moment, displaying a strong willingness when it comes to pushing a bridge or solo into a nontraditional direction.
Representing a sum greater than its (already remarkable) parts, A Matter of Life and Death is a conceptually cohesive whole. Tackling topics surrounding war, death, and religiosity, every song feels as though it plays in integral part in a nonlinear yet thematically bound story. It is this unity that sets albums above and beyond. Maiden, in true legend fashion, do not falter in this regard. While an admittedly divisive album among the fanbase, A Matter of Life and Death bares the soul of this particular villager’s ideal metal album--not a mere collection of songs, but rather a complete experience. This is what near-perfection looks like, marauders.
Given the joyful tidings of the season, my Scrooge-ian compatriots & I decided it was high time someone injected a little despair into your holiday cheer. Neither entry here is quite representative of a Winter Wonderland, but for the likes of you and me, they’ll certainly serve as a welcome replacement.
VERMINOUS SCUM - S/t EP
This sludgy outfit is an offshoot of The Wizard Union Collective, a stable of musicians who play in groups that remain, if not sonically identical, a part of the same aesthetic fold. If the name feels familiar to long time readers (you belov’d few!) it’s because we previously discussed Ceremonial Smoke, a delightful little EP put together by the Union proper. While the vibe there was dense doom, Verminous Scum takes that template and backfills the riffs until they reach a tar-pit consistency. A mastodon couldn’t escape this sludge--even when the tempo reaches a march, the tone is thick as ever. Samir’s vocals are reminiscent of Ceremonial Smoke’s death growl, but here, he has truly reached the pinnacle of aggression. Add in some hooky vocal refrains--try Buried Under the Porch on for size--& you’ve got three tracks that demand repetition. I can’t truly recommend one over the other, so check em’ all out.
NAVIŪM - Into The Bowels of Emptiness
Grab a seat by the fire that Naviūm has started, take off your saliva-sodden boots, & revel in the depressive atmosphere of the bowels. These hooded black metalers are extreme in their DSBM ambiance, but provide an attuned dedication to contemplative passages. Take the “whisper-howl into the void” vocal stylings, which complement the guitars in constructing a wonderfully harrowing progression. Bass is tastefully present, which gives Naviūm a solid grounding in an ethereal plane of depressive existence. For a complete picture, I recommend Eternal. This track has it all--noisy aggression, mournful wails, & the emotional intensity this particular brand of black so gleefully exemplifies. As an album, it feels like it would benefit from another hefty track in the vein of Vultures to even out the pseudo-acoustic levity, but all told, crawling Into The Bowels of Emptiness is very much worth your while.
Verminous Scum and Naviūm can both be found on Bandcamp
Look, we can be self-critical: our Sampler needs a bit of an overhaul. Gone are the days of four mini-reviews crammed into the shrewd confines of an Instagram post. These bands deserve more attention bestowed upon the fruits of their talent & labor. Thus, the revamp’d Sampler, doom edition.
HERON - A Low Winter’s Sun
Heron’s mix of sludgy riffage, tortured vocals, and a post-metal approach to song structure on A Low Winter’s Sunmakes for a welcome addition to the snow and wind pounding our windows here at Sleeping Village. Less than innovative, perhaps, but this well-executed album has been on pretty constant rotation since April. Of particular note is Heron’s willingness to write music that consistently ebbs and flows--to this end, they utilize, at times, an acoustic flair with great aplomb. These moments add a dynamism to the thick ‘n’ doomy post-metal environ. Towards the end, Heron does seem to lean heavily on samples to drive the narrative, but as a whole, it makes for a nearly sublime listening
experience. Give it a whirl...or five.
BAST - Nanoångström
Nanoångström’s aesthetic package is an intriguing affair. Possessing some of the best album artwork in the doom game, Bast’s latest is certainly pleasing on the eyes. More importantly, in the sonic department, the palette straddles black and doom without ever falling solidly on either side of that seemingly abrupt demarcation. To their credit, Bast is very effective at exploring the space between those boundaries. The riffs are sludgy and voluminous, the blackened vocals are richly emotive, and the drums, while at times distant, lay claim to a hollow expansiveness. When Bast’s formula clicks, it clicks on an intrinsically pleasing level. Given a horizonless, galaxy-spanning vision, some tracks do feel particularly long. That said, Nanoångström as a whole asserts itself with a delicious driving energy that consistently rears its head on standout moments--look to the title track and Far Horizons as prime examples. Bast brings a clear technical adeptness--a hefty late addition to 2018’s roster of genre-toeing doom. Highly recommended!
Heron and Bast can both be found on Bandcamp.