Here I am, quill clenched betwixt my inksplatttered teeth as I clamber into the tub. Advent Varic's Tumulus tumbles, rapidly and raucously, into my earholes. Perfectly on cue, blood pours from my nostrils as the sky burns. In other words: all is not well. Sorry, I mean: all is well. Fuck.
Why the tub? Two reasons. Firstly, as a clear Side A/Side B concept album, this beast offers a duo of twenty minute tracks, constructed and delivered as a single blackened stoner symphony. My attention span lasts about as long as this fragile soap bubble before me, so I'm admittedly out of my comfort zone. Secondly, it's damn comfortable, and if I'm going to witness the world collapse into inferno, I might as well do so from here, where the fires of civilization's demise will prevent this bathwater from going lukewarm. For those of you not privy to the expanded universe of Advent Varic lore, here's the gist: these extraterrestrial marauders were birthed from the muck of the titular far-flung world of Tumulus, and have since wrecked havoc across the universe on a cosmic mission of destruction at the bidding of the Godlike entity known as Varic. Our beloved homeworld is, alas, the next link in their chain of brutalistic annihilation. Concept albums live and die by the strength and flexibility of their narrative, and here, Advent Varic have given themselves ample room to experiment. Let's see where that takes us.
As one embroiled in the everyday drama associated with dwelling in a medieval township, this particular villager has some opinions on Heretical Sects--y’know, in the abstract. Whether mere blasphemers, or divergents intent on shaking the very foundation of spiritual and social order, a group of righteous heretics holds an undeniable appeal to us iconoclasts-at-heart.
That said, heretics these days need to put in some genuine work. Shock value in black metal has, alas, become a bit of a non-starter, from blasphemous lyrical content to the now-cliche aesthetic of asceticism. And let’s face the facts: it’s a little late in the game for Christ-punishing antics to come off as particularly excommunication-worthy. In other words, in the modern era of Way Too Much Black Metal, Heretical Sect’s choice of expression isn’t schismatic per se. But does that mean their EP lacks a certain fringe-treading modus operandi that the Redefining Darkness association suggests? Of course not. Rotting Cosmic Grief is, to put it mildly, an impressively well-conceived debut.
The hooded and anonymous members of Heretical Sect have allegedly seen and contributed to their fair share of the New Mexican metal scene. This, I am willing to believe. Rotting Cosmic Grief comfortably wears a natural cohesion, a well-conceived flow from beginning to end. This is not, in my experience, something that simply occurs. From a compositional standpoint, experience is evident--this EP was built by appropriately battle-scarred hands. Blending harsh doom and formative blackness, Heretical Sect excels at adjusting the tempo to suit the needs of a track at any given point in time. Moving from Sabbathian riffage to strenuous-yet-hefty tremolos with nary a thought, the guitar weaves a delicate and dangerous path. Melodic where melody is required, pulsating when the thick vocals can make ample use of a thick undercurrent...and even, on occasion, galloping at a skeletal NWOBHM-esque frenzy. Dynamic by design, each track rises to glorious crescendo and falls to troubled depths...albeit each at its own unique pace. Simultaneously razor sharp and crudely honed, the best moments herein, of which there are many, remain as unshakable as a moonlit night terror.
At times I’m reminded of Bathory, but realistically, these purely blackened moments are few are far between. Heretical Sect is not defined by genre conventions, and their use of various soundscapes echoes the expansive and conflicted Southwestern landscape--both social and natural--from which they draw inspiration. The doomiest moments on “Punish the Christ” are reflective and far-reaching, while highlight track “Visceral Divination” spits and hacks with violent abandon. As promo material alludes, these sharp contrasts are a prime representation of the inherent disconnect between a nostalgic fascination of the Southwest, and the brutal history it hides and indeed maintains. Both sides of American tradition are laid bare by Heretical Sect. Without getting too philosophical, I’d posit that perhaps this is the future of black metal--not blasphemous speech, but honest illustration of the grief and horror we would rather ignore.
As an EP should, Rotting Cosmic Grief leaves me wanting significantly more. Their approach feels unique enough to merit further exploration, and their sheer ability to write compelling music across a wide genre spectrum gives me hope for the longevity of Heretical Sect’s vision. These four track resonate in more way than one. In sum? Rotting Cosmic Grief comes highly recommended. Play it loud.
Heretical Sect - Rotting Cosmic Grief is out today, and is the product of a triple-threat release from Redefining Darkness Records (CD), Caligari Records (cassette), and Vendetta Records (vinyl).
DAWN FADES - S/T
Post-metal is an intrinsically fickle beast. While a more forgiving genre such as sludge or death can exist--and flourish--simply on the merits of its particularly bombastic nature, post-metal consistently toes a line between repression and expulsion. While this particularly sleepy-eyed Village isn’t that well versed in the post-metal ‘verse, I do know this: a band must walk that line with grace, displaying both self-reflective ambiance and explosive catharsis, the inevitable result of an emotional and sonic bottleneck. How, then, does the band in question handle to pressure? Dawn Fades are a mighty quintet based out of LA, and prior to their debut, the reputable immersive nature of their live performances served as a calling card. While this may be their first release, these fellas are markedly professional and mature in their craft. I’m happy to report that when Dawn Fades commits to emotive bombast, they blow the walls out.
While these moments of catharsis are few, they define the album’s ability to maintain interest and immersion. Buildup is everything, and Dawn Fades’ true strength is their ability to maintain interest through the more ambient, acoustic, and otherwise gentle passages, while simultaneously knowing how and when to strike without isolating or boring their audience. If that isn’t a success story, what is? Gentle and often near-elusive guitar sets the stage, and well-considered use of cleans and harshly blackened rasps provide a barometer for intensity. None of this feels contrived or--gasp--overly academic.
Take the periodic brief pauses in instrumentation on Ashes, a track that slowly grew to become a favorite. While another band might have used this as a chance to showcase an animistic screech, or another suitably violent vocal exorcism, Dawn Fades elects for a subtle silence. In interrupting the pattern, it helps the song as a whole catch an (occasional) jagged breath. As a result, attention is focused. Quite smart. Moments like this, which frequent the album, seem particularly well constructed for a live environment, where the audience can be pulled and manipulated through a tangible atmosphere.
From a critical perspective, the drums, which significantly define the motion of the album throughout, could use more heft--while light on their feet, they generally lack punch. That said, the crunchier tracks--such as lead single Freeze--feel particularly massive in comparison. More concretely, the utilization of lyric-less cleans in Shackle seem slightly out of place given the prior sophistication of atmospherics. Considering the overall achievement here, minor complaints. On a personal level, Dawn Fades was very much worth the expedition into unfamiliar genre waters. If you are a fan of post-metal--or perhaps similarly uninitiated--this debut will undoubtedly prove an intriguing and satisfyingly immersive experience.
Dawn Fades will be released February 8th from Metal Assault Records. In the meantime, we here at the Sleeping Village highly recommend you bend your ear in the direction of Lean and Freeze. Solid singles both, and a strong introduction to Dawn Fades’ uniquely precise line in the sand between introspection and violent spectacle.
MORTEM CULTUM - Querent Ov Self
Here at the (less-than) gilded halls of the Sleeping Village, us highfalutin peasantry have a certain appreciation for potential. There’s something endlessly exciting about coming across something that bodes well--be it a band who have steadily improved across a bevy of albums, or a demo that hints, not so subtly, of greater things to come. Today, we examine the curiously entitled Querent ov Self, a demo EP from one-man-black-metal-band Mortem Cultum. Lest ye be confused, Mortem Cultum’s first effort falls squarely in the latter category: this intriguing little demon of an demo reeks of potential. Over two days of intense listening (involving a feverish nap, no less!) I’m quite convinced that this outfit’s next endeavors are, without a doubt, going to do their fair share of damage.
This all isn’t to say that Querent ov Self doesn’t stand up on its own feet, free of future projections. Built on a foundation of simple yet bone-rattling riffage, ghastly rasps, and drums that lend a certain rolling thunder to the proceedings, the tracks presented here exude a jubilant momentum. Even acoustic closer Manifestations in Scorpius I avoids stagnation--compared to its blackened predecessors, it’s a gentle current, but a current nonetheless. Forward motion is crucial, especially so in the confines of a stereotypically oppressive and heavy-handed genre. Across the first three tracks, I’m reminded of the adage that black metal is just surf rock with distortion. This should by no means be taken negatively, ‘cause damn, surf rock is catchy as hell. Eternal Blasphemy, in particular, has a delightfully bouncy braggadocio. Compulsively listenable. Not, let it be known, a bad quality. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
There are certainly improvements to be made, of course, but nothing so absurd that a little extra attention the next time around won’t help smooth over. While vocals are generally a strong suit, there are several odd moments on Journey to Agartha where the sneering delivery vaguely reminds of College Humor’s overblown take on Batman’s phlegm-ridden rasp. A mite distracting, but not enough to derail an otherwise crushing track. On a similar note, transitions between riffs and passages are occasionally marred by a certain abruptness, but over time, as Mortem Cultum’s production garners additional attention, this issue ultimately seems of little concern. Generally, the mix feels appropriately muddy, given the fetid underground from which Querent ov Self crawls. Much like our attachment to the hand-me-down cassette aesthetic in genres such as speed or thrash metal, an imprecise production job is practically what this particular brand of black requires.
An epic quality pervades the demo as a whole--a fitting soundtrack, perhaps, for the impishly demonic figure featured on the cover. For black metal, it’s punky in execution, adventurous, and pleasantly light-hearted. For black ‘n’ roll, it’s sharp and just a little bit dastardly. Querent ov Self is a regrettably brief ride--I really can’t get enough. Needless to say Mortem Cultum exudes the potential we villagers crave. Highly recommended.
SWORD HORSE - Obstrinxerit
As a wordslinger here at the Sleeping Village, my vocabulary is my pride n’ joy. While the reviews and features published here are (admittedly) a little verbose, it is this academic rigor that defines us. Thus, as a thesaurus hound, a word with which I am unfamiliar is if nothing else, a challenge. A month back, Sword Horse (Albuquerque’s soon-to-be-favorite doom duo) threw down the gauntlet with a single bearing a wildly pedantic title, born of the Latin but otherwise lost on me. Needless to say: hook, line, sinker.
Today’s vocab means, loosely, that he/she will bind, tie, or otherwise fetter. What a fitting title for such a constricting track. Sword Horse don’t deal in doom of a relaxed nature. This music falls off the extreme end of the spectrum. Dark, violent, crushing--all are apt. Rather than riffs, Sword Horse writes motifs in distortion. Rather than intelligible vocals, a harsh cry emanates from the blackened void. While prior singles and their Affliction EP recall Primitive Man in a dedication to the purest form of sonic annihilation, Obstrinxerit taps into something even more visceral. On Affliction, the percussion in particular was a defining quality, allowing the sludgy atmosphere a structure. Here, that structure is pulverized, replaced by a free-flowing ambiance, an irresistible pull into a cave that is too small. In this case, Death doesn’t beckon, so much as leave you with no other option.
Obstrinxerit’s strongest suit is the vocals, which echo and billow, filling the space with remarkable aptitude. For a six minute track, it seems half its length, which is quite telling given the rejection of a typical template. With that said, should Sword Horse put out an album of this material, some additional features will likely be necessary to maintain the high standard of pummeling and constricting music they have created until this point. If you like your metal raw and visceral, this loquacious Villager highly recommends you give Obstrinxerit some of your hard-earned time.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!