This particular Sleeping Village owes a massive debt to Black Sabbath…& not just because we blatantly lifted our moniker from their plunder-worthy supply of deep cuts. Because Sabbath have left such a veritable canyon in the firmament of heavy music, we dedicate every Sunday to exploring their own discography, or to highlighting a lesser-known band that carries the mantle of Sabbathian legacy. Today it's a case of the latter, as we review Fresh Grass, the debut EP from Brooklyn’s GRASS. Slip on those headphones & dim the lights, dear reader; it’s time for Sabbath Sunday.
Let’s not beat around the bush here: Fresh Grass is a remarkable effort. As someone who does battle with a veritable fogbank of stoner metal and doom on a daily basis, take it from me--Grass operate on a very high level of professional musicianship. Frankly, the only real criticism I have to offer is that Fresh Grass is trapped within the miserly confines of an EP. Were there another two or three tracks to flesh things out length-wise, this would constitute one helluva album. But alas, we’re left with a debut that would have blown last year’s Top 10 EP list to smithereens, if only it had entered the Sleeping Village a tad earlier. But that’s enough hyperbole, folks. What’s this thing sound like, anyways?
While they classify themselves as a rock outfit, GRASS plays doom with ample helpings of southern rock’s sleaze and the high-flying swagger of 70’s psychedelia. Permeable groove and simple yet melodic guitar are the name of the game, and, like any devotees of the riff, GRASS keep things moving just low and slow enough to shake foundations. The bass here is of particular note--Josh Peterson’s hefty stylings add a distinct dynamism to the formula. Look to intro track Amnesia / My Wall as a prime case of the bass’s general presence. Here, the riffs are big and the amp is king. And lest they be neglected in our riff-centric musing, the vocals elevate the package wondrously. Phil Anton’s voice is a thing of beauty, combining, somehow, the sultry tones of Jack Bruce’s early-era Cream with the gruff Americana of Clutch’s Neil Fallon. No question: this guy can sing.
The obvious concern with these genre trappings is a certain reliance on repetition, but with subtle variance in tempo and riff structure, each song is imbued with its own character. Take Easy Rider, for example, which remains significantly more laid-back than the hard(er) rockin’ Fire. There’s no real opportunity for boredom to set in, which, given the course of many Sabbathian enterprises, this is no small feat. GRASS have something special on their hands, and if their next release delivers on this promise, we’re in for a show. Need I say it? Fresh Grass comes highly recommended.
GRASS - Fresh Grass will be released Feb. 22nd
As a nostalgic being, I’ve spent this Sabbath Sunday looking back. This album in particular deserves more time in the limelight. Witness the (slightly revised) review for: Witchcryer - Cry Witch.
Like it or tolerate it, doom is foundational. Youthful encounters with groups such as Black Sabbath, Witchfinder General, & the oft-neglected Pagan Altar established in myself & many others a love for doom--&, more significantly, a love for the metalverse at large. When a new band sounds like the progenitors of heavy, it’s easy to wash them off as mere nostalgia-core. It is with this wariness that I approached Witchcryer Needlessly, as it turns out. Despite deep roots, these Texan occult rockers have created something inexplicably fresh to call their own.
On Cry Witch, all elements work together exceedingly well. Hefty bass paves a path of irresistible groove, & the riffs mosey with a deadly combination of down-to-business swagger & infectious charm. The fingerprints (in a manner of speaking) of Never Say Die era Iommi are all over this album, but would we want our classic riffage any other way? Iommi’s approach to composition changed while writing Heaven in Hell, in that Dio sang melodically across the riff, whereas Ozzy sang directly over them. It is to Bravo’s credit is that she handily does both, providing an element of complexity & maturity that is difficult to find in ye doom of olde. Ranging from a somber croon (The Preying Kind) to a raspy scream (Ma Kali), Bravo’s emotive vocals are what truly makes Witchcryer a fiery force in the proto-doom sphere. Lastly, while it often feels that the best compliment one can offer a drummer is that they do an effective job without being particularly noticeable, Moctezuma’s choice to ride the cymbals through choruses perfectly compliments the stellar vocals.
Normally brevity isn’t a cause for disappointment, but given the Witchfinder & Sabbath covers, original Witchcryer is precious content. Another hard-hitting tune after the acoustic closer would have left the album on a slightly stronger note. This may be a moot point, however, as an appropriate reaction to reaching the end...is simply taking it from the top. Highly recommended!
Witchcryer - Cry Witch was released Jan. 19th from Ripple Music
We here at the Sleeping Village have coaxed another occupant into the confines of our Ivory Tower. Bardic by nature, this scribe writes his reviews in the form of short stories. Give a warm welcome, readers, to Tales_of_Deception: the Story Teller himself.
Written by: Tales_of_Deception
I-A: The mountains in the distance seem to be growing closer and closer as the days turn into nights. It seems as though I've been walking nonstop with very little rest. My bones are weak, my muscles are nearly ripped to shred from the attacks I've had to endure the last few weeks. It seems as though nothing is normal here. The elements are far more harsh than I've ever encountered before. Frozen lakes and burning woodlands stretch out across the earth for miles. It's as if the climate here talks to itself on a more spiritual level above all else.
As the moon starts to rise and the winds begin to pick up speed, I prepare myself for the chilling night that is expected. With temperatures getting below 10° most nights, the clothes on my back will not be enough for how blistering cold it is here. In a weird way, it seems that this "world" goes simply off of emotion. When I'm depressed or disappointed, it gets so cold, so quickly. I don't even have enough time to react before it smacks me in the face. On the other hand, if I'm angered my temper rises to the surface instantly, like the heat from sun that hangs over me, roasting my flesh. My skin fights it no more and gives in, dripping off of my body. I want out! I do not want this as much as I thought I needed it. FUCKING HELP ME!!!!
I-B: Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months and it seems as though this might be the end. The solitude, the emptiness and the pure guilt, has all taken its toll on me. My mind has begun the process of killing itself off slowly. The haunting images that stalk the shadows in these woods are not something I deserve. On the other hand, it's what I was seeking so I have to accept the cards I was dealt. Have I contemplated taking my own life? Sure, multiple times. But that isn't who I am. I'd much rather be devoured by the things that stalk my every move, than just accept my fate and end what wasn't meant to be.
II-A: It's been four long months of never ending travel. The infection below my right eye has begun the stages of decaying. If I can't find some sort of medicine, creek or bandages within the next couple of days, I'll be carrying half my face right along with my torn clothes. The only positive that I've seen since I arrived on this "world" is that as the days go on, the dreams that haunted me nightly, are seeming to slow in pace. It's beginning to smell less like shit and burning flesh and more like garbage. Does that mean some sort of food is near? I've traveled nearly 700 miles on foot in the last four months. I can't give up now.
What's the point in continuing though? What if the end isn't even real? Am I being unstable by saying that I seriously wish this "world" would just take me away and control me as it does every other thing inside of it. The juggling act that comes and goes from emotions is really just the first layer of self-destruction. I mean, the only positive about letting myself succumb to the pressures that lay upon my shoulders of being in this "world" is that I might be at peace. But even that isn't a shot I'm willing to take because it's not 100% safe or even trustworthy.
II-B: SALVATION!! The sound of running water has whispered across my ears as I woke up this morning. How did I not hear this last night? It was dead quite. So quite that it felt like I was in a padded room with no windows. I can't seem to think straight at the moment. The amount of thrill in my heart and soul, this is something I haven't felt in years. I have to find that source of water. It's my only chance at survival. My stomach has started to eat itself to the point that moving even hurts. It feels as if my insides have been boiled, chopped up and served on a hot plate, while still in my body.
It's getting closer! It has to be within the next couple hundred feet. A waterfall? No way! Out in the middle of this gigantic wasteland? I'll chalk it up to me losing my fucking mind because the loudest thing I've heard thus far is the screams of unknown figures in the dead of night. I push forward to see exactly what the hell the noise is. I don't care if I die trying. This might be my only rescue and leverage to keep myself alive. What if it's a small village filled with others? Today might be the day that I find hope and faith in what I've believed in this entire time.
III-A: Today marks day thirty-five of being in solace. The "world" that surrounds me is still burning, freezing and I can still hear the chaos that erupts during the witching hours of each nightfall. The only difference is that I have found freedom in my new so-called "home". These walls, the "Shrine" as I call it, provide everything I need to build myself back up to the "being" that I once was. Brighter days are ahead in my journey but it's also an unknown wonder what is around each corner. All I can do is keep my head straight, don't ponder on what I've been through but also remember what I did to get myself into this position.
Rest In Peace, Seth Howard - May the impact you've had on your friends, family and bandmates never be forgotten. You may not have known it but they carry a piece of you with them every single day and always will. To some, you might be the "Shrine" they've always needed. Godspeed, sir. May you rest well.
As someone who spends an inordinate amount of time confronting rough drafts, the process of heartfelt revision is something I can certainly appreciate and applaud. In 2010, as a one-man outfit, Becoming the Lion’s Ghosts Of A Fallen Soldier began life as an illustration of the homecoming and attempted emotional reconciliation of the titular soldier. In 2018, after adding vocals (and two bandmates, no less!) the bones of the original EP have been realized in flesh.
And to be frank, Ross Blomgren’s original instrumentation possessed rough-hewn edges. More importantly, however, these compositions revealed, through the cracks and under the dull synths, the post-metal sensibilities of God As Astronaut, the proggy melancholy of Tides from nebula, and the angst of Deftones. A potent and evocative mix, to be sure. The 2018 release, I am pleased to announce, does not lose or limit that core identity--indeed, it maintains those best qualities and significantly improves upon its weaknesses. That said, the freshly minted arrangement simultaneously adds new challenges for Becoming the Lion to confront.
First, the remarkable improvement. With the addition of a drummer and guitarist, (Dan Mazur and Dennis Paterkiewicz, respectively,) the original tracks are imbued with a significant weight. The riffs are somber, and the drums, rather than loosely hanging in the detached programmed void, feel grounded--rooted, even. The issue with so much post-rock/metal is a tendency to float...but not so here. In this sense, Becoming the Lion recall the ability of Russian Circles to place the audience in a percussively concrete time and space. From an instrumental perspective, Ghosts Of A Fallen Soldier is a marked success. The gentle atmospherics draw the listener in. The delay-ridden keys deploy subtle tethers, keeping them entranced. The package isn’t quite proggy in it’s experimentation, but the dynamics between clean and moderately hefty guitar tones work inordinately well with the ambiance. Vocals, particularly in the case of Rally at the Battlefront and standout Ready, Aim, Fire, brings a glorious (and necessary) melodic element. Melancholic, desperate, and borderline tortured at times--when these vocals work, they work very well in portraying the EP’s central character.
As alluded, Becoming the Lion displays some room for improvement. The vocals, while pleasingly emotive and undeniably successful at reinforcing the ambiance established by the guitar, occasionally falls away from the instrumentation, seemingly walking its own path with no clear destination. The introductory verse and pre-chorus on Too Late Now, for example, feels disconnected in a manner that isn’t quite reconciled by the general sense of confusion and tragedy. Otherwise, the EP falls a little flat on the tail end--after the sinister We Should Have Turned Back, I was hoping for a track or two that served to reconcile the various sonic elements displayed until that point. I suppose that a lack of reconciliation is, thematically speaking, sort of the point.
I’m tempted to describe the whole package as “charming,” largely because it continues to pull me in for reasons I haven’t necessarily been able to articulate here. All told, 2018’s return to Ghosts Of A Fallen Soldier is a successful experiment in revision and (inevitable) maturation. If emotive post-metal, post-rock, or otherwise alternative music is your poison of choice, Becoming the Lion is certainly worth your while.
The Sleeping Village is proud to present our first track premiere! Behold:
Sacrificial Slaughter, the lead single from Reign of Terror’s forthcoming sophomore effort, appropriately entitled Revolution Through Violence, is a meaty slab of groovy, slam-ridden death. Beyond that, however, it is also a refinement of approach and style. Leaning into the deathier side of the equation and forsaking some of the more overtly blackened elements of this duo’s earlier work, this punchy track gleefully bleeds aggressive tendencies. No vague intent here: “this album is a lot heavier...more of a "fuck you" to the big corporations and religion,” says Jereth Fewings, sole instrumentalist. Subtle? Hardly. This music doesn’t know the meaning of the word. Between this track and their debut album (which shall receive a full review shortly,) Reign of Terror has been responsible for a lot of the blood splattered on the Sleeping Village’s walls, as of late.
Mighty combat-boot stomping riffs--think Devourment’s chug plus Deicide’s falling-down-the-stairs momentum--maintain constant vertebral punishment. It’s an exercise in the exact knuckle-dusting jubilance I have swiftly come to love about this passion project’s core identity. Channeling the gurgling grotesqueries of the aforementioned Deicide, and the grating expulsion of Vomitory, vocalist Oscar Diaz also makes a strong showing. Sacrificial Slaughter represents some of his most confident work yet--the whirlpool intensity of his diaphragm imploding growls are satisfying in their blanket brutality, and the brief appearance of his higher rasp, which before remained the most impressive aspect of his range, truly shine.
Sacrificial Slaughter is death metal boiled down to it's more enjoyable elements, plain ‘n’ simple. Loud. Boisterous. Viciously Fun. Listen to it here:
The Sleeping Village doesn’t have a bat-signal...per se. What we do have, however, is a gnarled, wizened, and otherwise decrepit husk of a bellringer who lives at the top of our (similarly decrepit) tower. When said warden of the bells yearns for the sweet strains of sarcophagal death metal--something to drown out the incessant ringing--he lights his brightest lantern and waits, earnestly, in hope that someone will heed his call. Luckily for him, Rotted Life Records was waiting in the wings.
Rather than delivering their death blow by means of overt brutality, Russia's Gosudar deals, quite comfortably, in atmosphere. Nearly qualifying as doom at times, the emphasis on establishing a dense and foreboding ambiance takes priority over burly riffage. The comparison to Cruciamentum feels particularly apt--much like their abyssal forefathers, Gosudar excel at building a track to a natural pinnacle, before breaking it down to its gloomiest elements. While this formula applies to both tracks, it feels best executed on King of Pain, which features a wonderfully aggressive vocal climax at the peak of a progressively intense instrumental climb. While the guitar tone, in particular, is much heavier than something dredged from the catacombs of Grave Miasma, second track Anathema recalls a keen ability to lead the listener through a series of increasingly heavy passages.
The greatest strength of this demo is its ability, in the midst of dark atmosphere, to hint at the possibilities of a larger world, a grander stage for their ominous mise en scene. Frankly, this is one of the best qualities a demo can possess, as it leads this particular villager to believe that Gosudar are keeping a few cards up their sleeve for a (hopefully forthcoming) future release.
And yes, fear not. Our bellringer is sufficiently suffonsified.
Doom metal is my desert island genre of choice. Besides an obvious proclivity for hefty riffage, however, what draws me to doom is the opportunity for subtle variation. The ability to take a winning formula and bend it to one's will is what makes or breaks the bands who worship the gloom. In this sense, Maryland doomsters Yatra tread a fine line on their debut, Death Ritual. That said, they walk it with deft balance and great aplomb. Death Ritual has an unique character, and for that, it shines in the stygian environs of its own creation.
Like many before them, Yatra proudly carry on the droning traditions of Sleep, Electric Wizard, and perhaps Miserable-era Bongripper. In other words, the riffs moves like tepid silt, while drums perform their duties with little flash or braggadocio. Notably, the guitar is oddly comforting--its caliginous persona is so well defined that it takes on a near-physical presence. Darkly mantric riffage remains the name of the game across Death Ritual’s runtime, and in some instances, this works very well in their favor. Look to Black Moon as a particularly acute example of the capabilities of (frontman) Dana Helmuth and (bassist) Maria Geisbert to hold it down in the low n’ slow department.
As time inevitably goes on, however, the sheer personality of the riffage begins to falter as a primary source of interest. And here, we encounter the aforementioned need for variation; while consistently performed, something must act as a foil to the lumbering strains. Thankfully, rather than devolving into the Straits of Boredom, Yatra utilizes a vocal style not typically associated with the genre. Blackly muttered howls lurk behind the guitar, comprising an odd yet appropriate for Yatra’s general aesthetic. What makes it succeed so well isn’t the quality of the isolated vocals--which, while intriguing, likely wouldn’t hold up in a true black metal context. Rather, it is Helmuth’s ability to weave his vox with the swell of instrumentation that ultimately gives Yatra an edge. Leaning into such a complimentary style results in a surprisingly well-conceived package. Also of note, vocally speaking, are the pleasantly wormy choruses. Album centerpiece (and highlight) Smoke is Rising, for example, has been stuck betwixt my ears for days now. While an intrinsically simple tune, simplicity certainly has its place in the doom pantheon.
The album's length remains quite respectable, especially given long-winded convention. That said, while the formula works, the middle portion of the album has proven to outshine both the head and tail ends in terms of memorability, with the penultimate Mighty Arrows being the least repeatable of the lot. All told, not much of a complaint. I have listened to Death Ritual a great many times over the past week--a process which resulted in a comforting familiarity. It's been time well spent. I’ll leave it at this: were the Sleeping Village marooned on an island, Death Ritual would undoubtedly keep this particular villager plenty entertained. Needless to say, Yatra and their brand of doom comes highly recommended.
Released Jan. 4th from Grimoire Records.
This list has been exclusive to the Sleeping Village's instagram for a few weeks now, but now is the time to place it in hallowed permanent ground. I’ll keep this brief: 2018 was a good year for good music. While few releases left me utterly gobsmacked, the sheer number of albums that fell--and remained--in the lovely range between “very good" and “quite excellent, actually” was impressive, to say the last. And, notably, many of these albums were the product of lesser-known bands. Whether freshly birthed from the primordial metal muck, or quality efforts from acts on the rise, 2018 belonged not to the established names, but rather to the little guys. It is my hope that this list, in large, reflects that.
In short, my top 20 albums met this criteria:
A). I enjoyed it.
B). I listened to it with great regularity across a significant expanse of time.
C). I believe it to be significant in either the reaffirmation of a core sound/aesthetic, or the development of a particular sub-genre.
Without further ado:
20. HOODED MENACE - Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed
Although this was released early on, no album impressed me this year with such a finely-tuned ability to straddle the line between death’s crushing riffage and funeral doom’s dismal gloom. Harrowing and heavy, the layers of grotesque yet melodically lofty leads form a near-tangible environment for these Hooded Menaces to dwell. Despite these leanings, “cavernous" remains an apt description for the atmosphere. I mean, just look at that album cover. Precision and restraint in the percussive department--and a killer vocal tone--further delineate Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed as a masterful album, easily their best (and most ominous) to date.
19. ARKONA - Khram
Well damn, how’s this for an aggressive about-face in terms of maturity between releases? Prior to this excellent batch of blackened folk, Arkona primarily dealt in pseudo-paganic power metal. Here, they maintain the ambiance (and the wind instruments/bagpipes, albeit a hell of a lot more judiciously) but lose the goofy schtick. Take the intro and first track as a prime example of this growth, as eerie throat singing leads into a thoroughly well-composed journey along medieval pastures. Arkona demonstrates a brilliant balance between harsh howls and wavering cleans, lending each track a certain aggression without ever losing sight of their whimsical foundation. Intriguing rhythmic interludes abound, illustrating a dedication to organic song structures. Besides being a compulsively fun listen, this album speaks volumes to Arkona’s willingness to try new things and demolish the boundaries they had previously established. If that isn’t enough of a reason to start taking a band seriously, I dunno what is.
18. MESSA - Feast for Water
Over the past few years, doom with female vocals officially transcended the realms of “known entity" into the arena of “crowded space.” This didn't stop me from becoming, at first listen, utterly enraptured with Messa’s dangerous combination of crooning vocals, pea soup gloom, and experimental tendencies. Feast for Water largely abandons the drone element of Belfry, and instead turns up the avant-garde approach, complete with a smoky jazz-lounge interior and a velvety croon. It’s blues, it’s post-metal, and at times, it’s vaguely dark ambient...and yes, it's plenty weird. Messa is heartfelt in their originality; the sonic expression of noir’s aesthetic and dour existential suspense. For a taste, try standout track Leah on for size.
17. HINAYANA - Order Divine
The issue with a lot of middling melodeath is a lack of dramatic flair. If one is following in the footsteps of heavy-hitters such as Insomnium, Omnium Gatherum, or Be’lakor, a certain appreciation for narrative and emotional development only goes so far if you don’t have that flashy approach. And oh, is Hinayana flashy. Vibrant guitar, dynamic bass, cathartic choruses, and the kind of songwriting that induces both heartfelt sorrow and triumph without subjecting the listener to some ill-conceived sonic whiplash. Return to Nothing is a high water mark, but there isn’t a track here that doesn’t leave me in a state of blissful satisfaction. Order Divine, simply put, is captivating. On Hinayana’s next effort I am hoping to see them reach further into the creative abyss in order to further distance themselves from the melodeath greats. That said: for a debut, such associations are hardly a legitimate downside, are they?
16. ALLFATHER - And All Will Be Desolation
Unlike a bullhead, Allfather has teeth. However, much like a bullhead, Allfather lurks in the cold & the dark, possessing the propensity to violently churn outward, extend its voluminous jaw, & swollen your arm up to your elbow. Feel your fingers in the muddy esophagus of this beast from the deep? That’s And All Will Be Desolation for you: an album constructed entirely on sludgy, sternum-cracking riffage, with liberal application of hardcore belligerence and doom’s murky atmospherics. And really, what’s a year end list without at least one big ol’ dumb skull?
15. ORPHANS OF DOOM - Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods
While there was a lot to enjoy in the realms of doom, sludge, and stoner metal this year, there were few albums that grabbed me by the ears and unceremoniously ragdolled my lanky frame. Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods is a hefty (yet remarkably nimble) minotaur of an album. Exemplars of consistently strong songwriting, these boys from Kansas City aren’t afraid to let the drums take the limelight. Intriguing tempo changes abound, maintaining constant interest. This isn't to say that the guitar ever truly takes a backseat. These riffs before ye mean business--think Lizzy by way of Baroness or early Sumac. Orphans of Doom inject a healthy dose of psychedelia and prog into their small (but ferocious) body of work, and this newfound fan is very excited to see where future efforts take them. As someone plugged into the happenings of doom, I can certify that Strange Worlds/Fierce Gods is the singlemost underrated album of 2018.
14. UNDER SIEGE - Under Siege
In the world of pleasant surprises, there’s really nothing like expecting to be serenaded by some freshly scrubbed Italian death...and, instead, promptly being trampled by a bagpipe-wielding party of marauders. On their debut, Under Siege packages a wide range of influences across the melodeath, pagan, and folk metal arenas into a surprisingly succinct and well-conceived album. They never overdo the symphonics and never underdo the mighty riffs: from what more could you ask? Much like Turisas, these fledgling warriors of steel know how to write songs that gets the ol’ blood pounding, while simultaneously maintaining a finely honed progressive edge.
13. WITCH MOUNTAIN - WITCH MOUNTAIN
Filling the unlucky 13th slot on our list is the incomparable Witch Mountain. I've been a fan of this powerhouse of an outfit since 2011's South of Salem opened (given limited experience) a door to the wide horizons of doom metal. I’ve been anticipating this latest release for a while--ever since that beautiful moment when, in the midst of undergrad’s bleakness, it was announced that Kayla Dixon would take over vocal duties. And if Kayla seemed like a confident addition to the crew then, she’s undoubtedly a seasoned pro now. New bassist Jason Brown also brings a lot to this soulful package, adding a little heft to Rob Wrong’s already substantial riffage. End of the day, everything I said in my review earlier this year rings true: Witch Mountain’s 4th album is a brilliant reaffirmation of their core identity and sound, and triumph reinvention for one of the best current bands in the American doom circuit. Witch Mountain got a lot of airtime this year, and if you haven’t given it a chance...this, dear readers, would be the opportune moment you’ve been waiting for.
12. KHEMMIS - Desolation
Khemmis have yet to release an album that hasn’t found a respectable hovel in my year end list. Hunted, most notably, was a moody doom blast of blunderbussian proportion. Needless to say, there was a whole lot riding on Desolation. While some of my fellow critics have said it’s a bit of a plateau, I vehemently disagree. The newfound focus on traditional elements--soaring choruses and galloping leads that would make the boys of Lizzy or Tyr brandish their manly chests--demonstrates that Khemmis isn’t one to adopt a formula and deny themselves self-refinement. Phil’s vocals in particular elevate Khemmis’ sound, which, generally speaking, is chock full o’ melody. This album remains their most consistent and sleek work to date, and if you’ve written Desolation off because it isn’t a Hunted clone, I highly, highly recommend a revisitation.
11. MERLIN - The Wizard
Hey, Yorick! Merlin has been a constant companion this year. Whether heading to a job I disliked mightily at 5am in the midst of a snowstorm, or traveling internationally after quitting said job, this warlock and his pointy hat have been whispering sweet nothings into my frostbiten (or sunburnt) ears all the while. To quote our original review of The Wizard here at ye olde village: “Merlin presents an album that feels original, untouched, and somehow beyond the scope of influence.” Proggy and tastefully experimental, this isn’t your standard exercise in doom. Forlorn yet assertive sax permeates the fold, and chanted vocals contribute to the general ethereal ambiance. It’s a pretty album filled with seemingly ugly moments, and that is a significant accomplishment in and of itself. As an expression of Merlin--the man, not the band--this slab o’ of dreamy psych-doom is an apt portrait. (And for those keeping count at home, The Wizard is my secondmost favorite doom album of the year).
10. OXYGEN DESTROYER -Bestial Manifestations of Malevolence & Death
There were a great many death metal albums that nearly made this list. Scorched, Monothiest, De Profundis, Convulsing, Outer Realm, and Our Place of Worship is Silence, to name but a few, all put out fantastic releases worthy of recognition. But regardless of their many merits, none of these bands delivered a death metal album that approximates the destructive tendencies of the most almighty harbingers of armageddon: y’know, the mighty Kaiju. Oxygen Destroyer are as brutal as they come, laying down track after Kaiju-themed track with an untouchable intensity and furious enthusiasm. I said in my review earlier this year that Chris Craven--a man unto like a monster himself--may have delivered the drum performance of 2018. In hindsight, I really don't think anything else can contest him for that title. Bestial Manifestations of Malevolence & Death is an album that wears its intentions and influences on scaly sleeves, and for that, I love the carnage it has to offer. If there was ever a death metal band qualified to cleanse earth of humanity’s existence, yer looking at it.
9. OF FEATHER AND BONE - Bestial Hymns of Perversion
Through some twist of fate, we have a second “Bestial” in our midst...and for good reason. If my old skool death metal isn’t A). grotesque and B). like unto a beast, I’m perfectly willing to show it the door. Thankfully, Of Feather and Bone nail both on the head. With a maul. The old skool aggression here is unprecedented, from the marshy riffage, to the dual vocal approach, to the lo-fi production reminiscent of a demo cassette left to rot in the breast pocket of John McEntee’s future cadaver. Of Feather and Bone aren’t trying to bring anything new to the table, but their execution is astoundingly top-notch. And really, at the end of the day, you aren’t looking for innovation when you gaze over the visage of such a viscerally exciting cover. You want blood and broken bones, and Bestial Hymns delivers.
8. ABORTED - TerrorVision
Describing why Aborted makes good death metal is akin to describing why water is good for you: no one cares about the technicalities. The fact of the matter is that, regardless of lineup changes, Aborted is on a goddamn streak. TerrorVision is but the latest victory on their grisly warpath. Caluwe has established himself as a premiere vocalist of the modern death metal era, and his exorcistic roars have never been more pugilistic. Majestic guitar work abounds, managing riffs-a-plenty on both the melodic and grind-influenced ends of the spectrum. Percussion is relentlessly precise, yet organic enough to avoid that dreaded clinical feel. Together, the elements work supremely well, and, as such, TerrorVision remains one of my most-listened albums of the year. To all the doubters, this particular Villager sees your cries of “Retrogore!” and raises you a Squalor Opera.
7. CHAPEL OF DISEASE - And as We Have Seen the Storm, We Have Embraced the Eye
This magnificent album has climbed the ranks with disturbing speed and acumen. A week ago it had found a place in my honorable mentions. Four days ago it rested neatly on the bottom shelf of my top 20. After numerous edits, it now resides here--and I’m cutting it off, dammit. If left unobserved, Chapel of Disease’s opus certainly has the ability to push and shove its way into the top 3. Here's why: a great album is, all too oft, one that challenges genre conventions. Here, we’re looking at a seamless dovetail of two seemingly distinct aesthetics, but Chapel of Disease have somehow managed to meld the exploratory world of 70’s prog and hard rock with the blunt edge of traditional death. The result is a hooky and lucid atmosphere, a vivid display of harsh vocals and a deliciously warm guitar tone. If metal has the equivalent of slipping into clothes that have just come out of the dryer, this is it. And as We Have Seen(…) is a brilliant exercise in blatant sonic exploration and structural deviation, and while their move away from the death confines has dismayed some critics, I find this to be one of the most fascinating evolutions of a band’s sound in recent memory. For a particularly acute taste of Chapel of Disease’s unique approach, album opener Void of Words comes very highly recommended.
6. JUDICATOR - The Last Emperor
Judicator appeals to a certain academic side of my existence; I wrote my dissertation on the 1st Crusade. So if you’re morbidly curious about where my fascination for the medieval aesthetic stems, there ya go. But Judicator’s brilliant latest didn’t end up 6th on this list simply for thematic reasons. Nay, The Last Emperor is a magnificent beast of a record, a shining example of how goddamn powerful power metal can be when executed with mature and adept hands. Glorious hooks abound, as do a wide array of lofty leads and comradious choruses. Epic bloodlust is the name of the game, and despite preconceptions associated with the genre tag, Judicator take their craft incredibly seriously, never sacrificing the sheer quality of musicianship. According to Spotify, 3 of my 5 most-listened songs of the year were cherry picked from this album. Highly, highly recommended, especially for ye olde acolytes of the Blind Guardian.
5. MORROW - Fallow
Alright, ye of little patience for small transgressions. This album was technically unveiled on Christmas Eve of 2017, but we’re going by the later physical release date. But in actuality, I’m not worried about the foibles, ‘cuz this album is one of the most devastating albums I had the pleasure of enjoying this year. Crust doesn’t typically lend itself to a gentle touch, but the liberal inclusion of violin and cello places Fallow in a category of its own. Hauntingly desperate, aggressively delicate. Catharsis isn’t merely a means to an end, but rather part of the journey. Gang vocals, purely reminiscent of hardcore stylings, serve both as a climax and a foil to mournful progressions. All told? An emotional masterpiece. Don’t let that release date scare you away.
4. DOMKRAFT - Flood
I originally reviewed Domkraft’s sophomore effort in a favorable light. What I didn't anticipate, however, was its ability to clamber so effortlessly up the rungs of the year-end ladder. It’s good. Really, really good. What more is there to say? Here’s a (slightly modified) summary quotation: “As a statement of pure dedication to their genre wheelhouse, Domkraft have done themselves proud. This isn’t an introduction to doom. As an example of the genre’s staying power, however, Flood is THE finest example of its ilk I have encountered this year.”
3. PAARA - Riitti
The premiere moments in this beleaguered scribe’s music listening existence more often than not involves being swallowed whole by an album. From nose to rump, Riitti is an engrossing and fantastic beast, defined by quality songwriting and a pervasive sense of growth and development. While admittedly a newcomer to the scene, I seldom find black metal to outwardly present so much depth and attention to natural flow from passage to passage, track to track. From melancholia and serenity to overt rage, Paara possesses the ability to meld and traverse a wide emotional range. The atmosphere is made complete by the inclusion of Finnish vocals, which add a certain ethereal ambiance to the whole package. Riitti is a special album--dare I say beautiful. And, as I mentioned in my review earlier this year, the entire album serves as a buildup to the final anguished minutes. Many listens later, this still remains my most anticipated conclusion of the year.
2. NECROPANTHER - Eyes Of Blue Light
Blackened thrash isn't exactly a burgeoning field, which, in some respects, automatically places Necropanther ahead of the fold. But Necropanther are so, so much more than a de facto replacement for the Skeletonwitch of yore. Simply put, this album--and the band itself--represents my favorite aspects of heavy music. The riffs are omnipresent, the harmonic melodies are unabashed, and the vocals are like unto Satan (the acid-refluxed) Himself. Moreso, this album possesses remarkable replay value--for a genre that generally encounters fatigue a few tracks in, Necropanther’s brand never falters or makes me reach for an alternative. Today, with a wealth of year end lists to peruse, filled with new music to discover, I nonetheless listened to Eyes of Blue Light not once, but twice. In full. Espousing Necropanther’s merits has been one of my favorite activities of the year. As my second favorite album of 2018, Eyes of Blue Light comes highly, highly recommended.
1. 1914 - The Blind Leading the Blind
As unfortunate as it may sound, context plays a very underrated role in the impact of an album. Listening to a world-class work whilst stuck, for example, in the mire in an ugly mindset, severely reduces the efficacy of the piece in question. The harsh reality of context, however, is particularly relevant in the case of my personal Album of the Year. Released 100 years after the conclusion of WWI, 1914’s exemplary The Blind Leading the Blind is a prime example of an album’s meteoric impact being significantly larger than the sum of its parts.
WWI was not a romantic war, and The Blind Leading the Blind is not a romantic record. Following the lead of its grisly subject matter, this album illustrates the horrors of a war fought outside the confines of dramatic or heroic narrative. It's not about a fight for a greater cause, or an attempt to right a grand injustice. The objective? To kill until there is nothing left to kill. “I know what we’re fighting for,” roars our narrator on Arrival. The Meuse Argonne. “Hopefully to end the war.” 1914 paints a grotesque, nihilistic, and realistic picture--and in this way, their commemoration is appropriate beyond compare. The Blind Leading the Blind captures the wide range of emotion experienced by the most emotionally broken. Thus, as an emotional work, it triumphs.
Musically, the genre--if it can be called that--is one of aggressively blurred lines. Blackened death, overt death, churning sludge, mustardy doom. All take solace in 1914’s muddy, bloody, yet au fait grasp. The result is an atrociously accurate atmosphere. The liberal inclusion of samples only enhances the feeling, to that point that listening is nearly voyeuristic, like you’re observing the (shell) shocking realities of senseless war from the safety of tidy modernity. Very seldom does an album inflict such a boggling barrage of emotion.
The Blind Leading the Blind is devastating. I’ll leave it at that.
Thanks so much to everyone who has followed along. We here at the Sleeping Village sincerely hope that this exercise has introduced you to some new music. Regardless of how small we may be in the grand scheme, its been an honor and a privilege. Support small artists, listen to good music. Happy (very belated, by this point) new year to you all!
Written by: Loveloth
Sweden's melodic death scene changed a lot since its inception and its titans followed suite, some for the worse (*coughs* In Flames,) and some for the better. Soilwork falls into the latter and for me, their peak was none other than The Ride Majestic, their previous effort and Dirk Verberuen (who I'll call the Dirk from this point on) played a big role in making that ride truly majestic. Ten and a half months later the Dirk leaves the band to join Megadeth (still salty about that) and suddenly, I became a bit nervous for their upcoming record.
Two Night Flight Orchestra records later (read as three and a half years) Soilwork set off 2019 with Verkligheten, their overall eleventh release which also ended their longest gap between said releases, and is the first with Bastian Thusgaard behind the kit. With great expectations and big shoes to fill, the spotlight turns to Soilwork. It's time to see how Verkligheten fares in their discography.
All that we came to love about new Soilwork is still present. Those mighty riffs, huge, catchy choruses, Strid's brilliant vocals, blistering drumming, subtle yet very present keyboard work, it's all here, but things are a bit different. This becomes more apparent the longer we hang out with Verkligheten. After a solid but not that needed intro, Arrival explodes and soars above you and engulfs you with its majesty. The song barrages you with blastbeats, swift yet deadly tremolo picks, and a chorus powerful enough to move a mountain and somehow give Scar Symmetry a run for their money. It all seems standard Soilwork, but then Full Moon Shoals arrives with its cello, ethereal atmosphere, and the most NWOBHM riff I heard since... since The Night Flight Orchestra's latest record. This is where Verkligheten stands out. NFO's classic and hard rock sensibilities crept up into Soilwork's established formula, and the results will make or break the record, depends on your stance. Dynamics (this word again) is the key player, and Full Moon Shoals use them to the absolute limit. Just when you start humming along the chorus, a thrashy break appears but it's not over as the band decides to treat your ear sockets with the heaviest moment on the record.
While all the tracks are enjoyable, some clearly stand out. Personal favourite When The Universe Spoke foregoes the 80's and thrusts us back in familiar, blastbeat-filled waters. Not only is this violent and heavy but it's also uplifting and almost hypnotic with its constant flow of double-bass hits.
Surprises are plentiful here but perhaps the biggest one was the addition of the mighty Toni Joutsen on Needles And Kin . Be warned, it's not what you expect. Just as with Alissa White-Gluz's clean vocals on Stålfågel, Joutsen just uses his growls but these are his most guttural and vile yet. So, both of the guests did the exact opposite of what I expected and things are looking good, right? Well, yes, but some things need to be mentioned.
First off, the production. It's sounds like your run-of-the-mill modern metal record, but the drums are way too overpowering and the keyboards lack true presence. Secondly, Bastian. Filling the Dirk's shoes was impossible considering his age and that's fine, he'll improve. I am slightly annoyed by his one-note approach but have no fear as this doesn't ruin the record, far from it. The Wolves Are Back In Town and Bleeder Despoiler are just some of the bangers you'll come across. Tracks like Witan and The Ageless Whisper, however, feel a bit clumsy.
With Verkligheten, Soilwork started a new exciting chapter of their rich, 24 year long career and I am pleased. While it fails to reach the highs The Ride Majestic, I cannot deny their passion, energy and ability to make brutal yet accessible music. If you're wondering what is the best place to start your Soilwork journey (if you haven't of course), well, you're looking at it. I am already liking 2019, and you will (hopefully) after hearing Verkligheten.
Chicxulub - The Fossil Record is the second full-length album by Norwegian progressive extreme metal band Endolith. In contrast to their debut album that dealt with rather cold, esoteric themes, Chicxulub is a concept album on, as the band calls it, more “tangible” themes: dinosaurs, fossils and the Chicxulub crater buried under the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico where an asteroid or comet hit and set off the extinction of the dinosaurs. Whether you want to call these topics “tangible” or not - they are definitely interesting and pretty unique. More on that later. Musically speaking, Chicxulub is a brutal and progressive death metal album with lots of interesting stylistic elements that result in a very unique sound. Featuring the strings of the Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra, and guest musicians on timpani and solo viola including world famous violinist Henning Kraggerud, the album has a very grand and epic dimension to it, which contrasts and complements the ferocious death metal basis of its sound.
When we at the Sleeping Village got the promo for this album, two of our writers were very interested in reviewing it--Loveloth and Lichtmensch. And since we could not decide who should write it, we had an idea: Why not write a review together? So, here it is: The first edition of TwofoldTreatise--two critics, one album.
Lichtmensch: Okay, let’s start this review by talking about the dinosaur in the room. This is an album about the extinction of the dinosaurs. Pretty metal, if you ask me. I find it rather interesting that I have never heard a metal album about dinosaurs before, actually.
Loveloth: Ever since I was a wee lad, dinosaurs fascinated me. So much in fact, I wanted to be a palaeontologist but life panned out differently. In any case this should be right up my alley. Prog hybrid record about dinosaurs? Yes please, I’ll have one of those to get my mezosoic fix before The Ocean release Phanerozoic II.
Lichtmensch: Dude, this sounds exactly like my biography. I also wanted to be a paleontologist and my childhood was reigned by dinosaurs. I still know most of their names and have a rather great amount of completely useless knowledge about them. Dinosaurs are freaking cool, man. So, what were some of your initial impressions when listening to this album?
Loveloth: Same here my dude, Walking with… series were a constant companion back in my youth so now I understand why both of us were so interested in this. Glad you asked, I liked the record and I am ready to discuss. Before we start that, a question. What bands do Endolith remind you of?
Lichtmensch: That’s a very good question. I got strong Devin Townsend vibes throughout the album. The wall-of-sound approach to songwriting the band uses frequently on this record is very akin of Devin’s approach in my opinion. Some of the proggier death metal sections made me think of Rivers of Nihil’s latest album and lots of the rest, e. g. the clean vocal choruses, as well as some of the riffs, reminded me of Extol, another Norwegian prog-death band. How about you?
Lichtmensch: Interesting, I’m a huge Devy fanboy and didn’t hear a lot of his influence here, apart from the production like you mentioned. For me though, Endolith remind me of an angrier, shriekier The Ocean mixed with Meshuggah (some of those riffs man), Extol (good call btw) and Dimmu Borgir and Septicflesh due to The Arctic Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra lending a hand, or thirty eight to be more exact. Judging by our descriptions (and please do judge, we’re totally in the right), this is a weird band, so what stood out for you the most?
Lichtmensch: First of all, I agree 100% on the Meshuggah part. Totally forgot to mention them, they came to my mind, as well. Yes, weird is a good word to describe them. I can’t even pinpoint one particular thing that stood out to me. The lyrics, the atmosphere, the combination of orchestral elements, death metal and those melodic sections - there’s so much interesting stuff going on in this album. I think the first thing that really struck me when I listened to it for the first time was how prominent the orchestral elements are in the band’s sound and how well they fit in with the djenty extreme metal riffs. The clean vocals were another element that really pleasantly surprised me.
Loveloth: It’s quite a dense package, that’s for sure but Endolith make it work, not only that but constantly throw curveballs at the listener for good measure. The addition of the orchestra was an excellent call as it adds another layer of atmosphere and since we’re dealing with that pesky asteroid which wiped out the dinosaurs, that grand scope which the strings, brass, percussion and woodwinds provide comes in really handy. I’ll be honest and state how I wasn’t particularly impressed with Chicxulub after my first listen but it grew on me as I started wrapping my head around all the mayhem that is present here. Take “Nest Scrape Display” for example, and how its thrashy beat clashes with a very Shuggah riff but as soon as you get used to it, we get a soaring chorus that greatly reminds me of their fellow countrymen In Vain. Endolith are unhinged, ambitious and I like that but I feel the band is yet to achieve their peak. Some things just feel off. Do we share this sentiment?
Lichtmensch: Absolutely. My listening experience with this album was interestingly the other way around. Listening to it for the first time was super impressive, but after multiple listens I began to notice some flaws and things I didn’t like all that much. I think this is a great album by a band with lots of potential to become even better in the future. Endolith have a rather unique sound already and I think they’ll be refining it on future releases. I’ll definitely keep an eye on them. Do you have a favourite song on the record or one that stands out to you in any way?
Loveloth: I do actually and guess what, it’s the proggiest and longest track, I am of course referring to the title track. It contained the only “oh shit” moments on the record. That breakdown around the three minute mark is nasty but what completely caught me off guard is the return of the record’s main theme that appears in the beginning of “Bloodfiends”. It’s a good and effective trick that works wonders with prog bois such as me. After it, the track morphs into a lengthy and epic outro and this is where Endolith shines the most as they have the time to successfully pull-off every idea they have for the song. And while no song is bad, some are a bit underwhelming like “Mount Evidence” or the final, bluesy track “When The Earth Died Screaming”. The idea is extremely cool but the execution lacks something I can’t quite put my finger on. What’s your favourite?
Lichtmensch: I’m not quite sure. The title track is great and I really like “Nest Scrape Display” and “Ichthys” a lot, but I think I have to go with “Diseasons”. I love how ominous and atmospheric it begins and how ridiculously heavy it gets towards the end. The harmonies and melodies on this track are some of the best on the album and it generally feels the most “complete” and thought out to me.
Loveloth: “Diseasons” almost ended up as my favourite for reasons you mentioned and I totally agree on it feeling the most “complete”. Regardless of this positives we went through, I still think I should like this more than I do. It has everything I like: paleontology, prog, djent, unconventional songwriting, dynamic vocals, experimentation, an orchestra and fat riffs but I still feel something is stopping the band from creating a true gem and I am yet to pinpoint what and maybe that’s the problem! It’s so hard to define this record and I think that hinders it despite helping it. I know that sounds contradictory but hear me out. Endolith needs to find that is completely theirs to solidify their character and that comes with time, time the band has because despite this flaw, Chicxulub is an enjoyable, quirky and fun journey that I see myself revisiting from time to time.
Lichtmensch: I agree on almost everything you mentioned. I enjoyed Chicxulub enough to listen to it many times and never be bored or annoyed by it, but it also didn’t blow me away or become an album I’d call an absolute masterpiece. I see it primarily as an album by a band still figuring out their definitive style and within that framework it’s a very good album. It has its flaws and some edges that would have needed some smoothening, but it’s definitely a lot of fun to listen to and I don’t regret a minute I spent with it.
Loveloth: Absolutely, well, think we went through everything, surprised how much we agree on things, must be the palaeontology fixation, in any case, if you are in some need of odd, eccentric and progressive death metal, Chicxulub (unlike the poor dinos) is here and available on every music platform, you know how it goes. Any last words Mr. Soliloquist?
Lichtmensch: Life uh.... finds a way.
Loveloth: Thus spake the Soliloquist and Loveloth, the two lords of palaentology-laden metal.
We provide thoughtful reviews of music that is heavy, gloomy...and loud enough to wake us from slumber. Written by a highfalutin peasantry!