Let me set the scene. It’s 20 below here in the Sleeping Village, but I’m safely hiding from the frigid environs, cloistered in the lofty confines of my Ivory Tower. The lamps are burning. The quill is sharp. It's a comfortable existence, but the parchment stares blankly. This will not do.
To fully submerse oneself in the dismal strains of Gather, All Ye Hellions--the recent demo from Vredensdal, Northern Wisconsin's representative for the New Wave of USBM--one requires an equally dismal atmosphere. It is with this mindset that I head outdoors into the cold and the bitter wind, seeking the physical manifestation of Vredensdal's frostbitten sound. Flesh stings as the naturalistic ambiance and somber chanting of "Ved Midnatt..." sets in, followed by distortion, forthright tremolo, and the comforting swells of (surprisingly hefty) underlying riffage. And then the vocals fall in place, and it all becomes apparent: Gather, All Ye Hellions isn't the product of your run-of-the-mill black metal wannabe. Nor is it a half-baked call to arms. Vredensdal means business.
While the general hoarfrost'd ambiance is obviously influenced by your favorite Norwegian black metallers, the willingness of the guitar throughout to weave in the occasional doom-inspired riff or lick seems subtly akin to Rebel Wizard. A distinctly gloomy and melodic current is evident throughout the entire package, with the doomy undertones showing an ugly mug most willingly on "Die By The Sword." If forced to choose, this is my favorite here--although that honor is fiercely contested by the title track.
Even to the chilblained ear, the vocals are highly decipherable. As a highly personal project that--in the artist's words--reflects "the struggle of human existence and how life itself is a burden," these lyrics leave a significant mark, and their delivery is the true star of this demo's show. Vrednesdal's voice is, simply put, fantastic. From a contemplative standpoint, it remains a prime blend of harsh naturalism, and the steadfast, world-weary confidence of someone who has seen their fair share of woes. As a result, the only real critique I have of this demo is that the vocals could stand to be louder in the mix. They deserve to be heard loud and clear.
Gather, All Ye Hellions feels significant, greater than the sum of its short runtime. It feels like the beginnings of something larger, and, given the current (justified) air of confidence Vrednesdal brings to the table, I'm quite excited to see where this is headed. If you find yourself out in the cold--or perhaps, whilst in the midst of comfort, have found the need for a little darkness--Gather, All Ye Hellions comes highly recommended.
Written by: Vattghern
Time is money. More notably, time is limited. In this modern day and age, for the majority, everything needs to happen fast. I need my news fast, I don't have time to cook, and I especially don't spend time on anything I don't really need to. It's sad, really, but why this pretentiously philosophical monologue to start the review of Zohamah's Spread My Ashes?
Because Zohamah approached their record in similar fashion--which in this case, works in favour of the music. The record is roughly half an hour long and given the type of music that is presented, a more stretched out approach would undoubtedly have taken away much of its charm.
Kicking off things with thunder and stormy rain is new World, and it captures the soundscape of what is to come accordingly. A bit of dissonant black metal, a bit of doomy atmosphere, and some death metal chugging. Genre traits are not bound to exact attributes though, since variety is subtle but noticeable. While Black Cloud is very fast paced, with hints of death metal, the intense vocal performance and tremolo picked melodies across the album scream "black metal."
Given the underlying diversity of influences and styles, some transitions don't work out as they should. At points an abrupt change or not-so-smooth transition occurs, but luckily for the listener, this is more of a rare occurrence.
With a production that gives spotlight to every instrument and a blend of genres that provides the listener with something fresh yet oddly familiar, Spread my Ashes succeeds in most parts. Especially the decision to cut corners where needed, which ultimately forms this into a short but sweet record.
Zohamah -Spread My Ashes will be released Feb. 1st from Redefining Darkness Records
Here at the Sleeping Village’s dilapidated mead hall, our blood-stained butcher/chef/warden of the promo pit will, on occasion, serve something a little out of the ordinary. Artistic license is generally a good thing...but when finding crunchy bits in the soup d’jour becomes an everyday occurrence, it’s probably might be time to tighten those creative reins. Let’s face it: sometimes we nascent tastemakers are looking for meat ‘n’ potatoes, plain and simple. To this end, Wisconsin’s own Necrokvlt are on the menu.
Delivering an unpretentious slab of black metal colored by the outward aggression of proto-death, there isn’t much on their latest 2-track that feels overly sophisticated. In moving beyond the enthusiastic Venom worship we witnessed in their prior works, Necrokvlt are effectively bridging the 1st and 2nd waves of black metal--and, in doing so, they play to their strengths very, very well. Opening track 7th Sound of Chaos is filled with riffage aplenty, complemented by a solid bass tone and pleasantly present cymbals. The true star here, however, is Golgotha on vox. The era of demo cassette black metal is punctuated, in my mind, by jubilantly throat-wrenching vocals. This guy delivers the goods. Pained, strained, yet simultaneously gleeful--this is the energy Golgotha brings to the table.
His obvious talent feels somewhat squandered, however, as the title (and final) track, A Spirit’s Suicide, is purely instrumental. From the instrumental perspective, this track is a headbanger regardless; the hookiest of surf rock progression with the moodiness of makes for a catchy track indeed. That said, it doesn’t hold enough weight to quite merit the exclusion of vocals. An odd choice, but the overall strength of this release dictates a significant number of replays in those short pockets of time that need filling. Necrokvlt are clearly proficient in their no-nonsense brand, and I’m excited to see where their next release projects them.
Written by: Ancient Hand
Ranging from the most extreme to the most ethereal, a wide range of genres are represented--and appreciated--here at the Sleeping Village. In that adventurous spirit, here are Ancient Hand's top 20 albums of 2018.
20. THOSE POOR BASTARDS - Inhuman Nature
Those Poor Bastards follow up their 2016 album, Sing it Ugly, with Inhuman Nature—an album that I was very excited about. Their previous album had some songs that I loved, but I found it to be one of the band’s weaker overall due to its overly grating production and repetitive sounds. My favorite album from the group is Satan is Watching, which features the band embracing more dark and sinister sounds. Luckily, just as much variation on that album was utilized by the band on this new release. This new album from the duo was announced with the single “Snake-Tongued Deceiver,” which features production that places the album in the time period that it aims to emulate. The rest of the album fell in line with this single; the production is fun and allows for bouncy rhythms, which are usually brought about through the incredibly fun synth work. The vocals have an interesting inflection that brings a melancholic mood to the bouncy music. Overall, I had a ton of fun with this album.
Favorite Tracks: Heap Bad Medicine, Snake Tongued Deceiver, Blow Wind
19. RIVERS OF NIHIL - Where Owls Know My Name
An interesting blend of jazz instrumentation and death metal. I don’t think either aspect of the album is the best in its respective genre, but I do think that the blend offers a ton of interesting material to enjoy. Catchy guitar riffs, fast-paced drumming, atmospheric instrumentation placed with the brutal vocals makes for one of the year’s most headbang-inducing albums!
Favorite Tracks: Terrestria III: Wither, The Silent Life, Where Owls Know My Name
18. ZEAL & ARDOR - Stranger Fruit
After my review of their debut album, Devil is Fine, Zeal & Ardor essentially did exactly what I wanted from them on their follow-up; the electronic elements took a backseat and left room for the chilling mix of blues and black metal. The haunting atmosphere of this album alone makes it one of the year’s most engaging releases, and pairing that atmosphere with the impressive instrumentation gives you one hell of a terrifying, catchy album.
Favorite Tracks: Intro, We Can’t Be Found, Stranger Fruit
17. UADA - Cult of a Dying Sun
Uada followed up my favorite album of 2016 with an incredibly punishing, yet slightly bloated, sophomore album. I really wanted to love this album, and I was happy when it lived up to my expectations. I still feel that the run time is a little too long for the lack of variation, but the material on the album is very much worthwhile, nonetheless.
Favorite Tracks: The Purging Fire, Cult of a Dying Sun, Mirrors
16. IDLES - Joy As An Act of Resistance
Positive and bouncy, this punk album is filled with fist-pumping anthems that will get stuck in your head for days.
Favorite Tracks: Television, Danny Nedelko, Colossus
15. ARCHITECTS - Holy Hell
Architects return from losing an integral member of their band to cancer with an incredibly moving metalcore record. The pained screams from frontman Sam Carter nearly make the entire release for me. The use of strings throughout the album elevate it to heights so epic that all you can feel is the emotion put into the music. While it may not be the most technically proficient album of the year, it is one of the heaviest when it comes to emotional weight.
Favorite Tracks: Royal Beggars, Holy Hell, The Seventh Circle
14. IMMORTAL - Northern Chaos Gods
Immortal returns with one of the best albums of their career. This release is filled with incredible riffs and drumming. The vocals are amazing, and the epic atmosphere puts the last 15 years of their discography to shame. Similar to Uada, I felt that this release was maybe one song too long, but otherwise, I just wish more albums could successfully achieve the atmosphere this album does.
Favorite Tracks: Mighty Ravendark, Northern Chaos Gods, Gates to Blashyrkh
13. BEARTOOTH - Disease
Beartooth started off strong. Their debut EP was some of the most scathing and brutal metalcore I had heard when it dropped. Their debut album introduced more melody, and their sophomore album made me doubt that they could ever recapture the same magic. I seriously lost a lot of hope after their 2014 album, Aggressive. That is, until I started hearing the singles from Disease. This album is an experiment in metalcore. Elements from punk, classic rock, and emo find their places in the tracklist. A varied listen, and with most of the experimentation playing off so successfully, this album is one of the year’s best—and potentially the band’s best release ever.
Favorite Tracks: Greatness or Death, Afterall, Clever
12. BROCKHAMPTON - iridescence
BROCKHAMPTON have all eyes on them. Their careers are at the point where they can either propel themselves even more into the realm of hip-hop’s bests, or they can lose it all. After last year’s releases and the controversy surrounding one of their members, a lot rode on this album. Luckily, their new album, iridescence, sees the bands at potentially their most cohesive. All the members seem to be on the page, and the frustration with their current states of life shine through in a multitude of sounds—from chaotic to beautiful. It is definitely a step in the right direction, and I look forward to seeing what else they can achieve.
Favorite Tracks: San Marcos, J'ouvert, Tonya
11. NOW, NOW - Saved
Now, Now released one of my favorite albums of all time in 2012 with Threads. I have been waiting nearly 6 years for their follow-up, and during that wait, the group’s sound changed drastically. Now only a two-piece, Now, Now have created Saved, a synth-pop album that relies more on the vocal melodies of Cacie than the drumming of Bradley. Luckily, Cacie delivers. Cuts like AZ and MJ show her as a strong and capable frontwoman. Not every track lands the same way these do, but when the duo is able to achieve the sound they’re going for, it is clear this change in their sound works to take their musical prowess in a direction with tons of possibilities. Hopefully, we don’t have another six-year wait ahead of us.
Favorite Tracks: MJ, AZ, P0wder
10. MOUNT EERIE - Now Only
Mount Eerie followed up one of 2017’s best albums with an equally crushing and emotional musical journey. This time around, the songs make use of more typical music motifs, but the result is just as difficult to listen to. I sincerely hope things get better for Phil and his family.
Favorite Tracks: Earth, Crow, Pt. 2, Distortion
9. HORRENDOUS - Idol
Horrendous continue to put out impressive music. Idol is an incredibly interesting and engaging listen that grabs your attention and refuses to let go until it the entire album is done. The interesting and catchy riffs, the howling vocals, and the punishing drumming all culminate into an oddly melodic yet brutal album; oxymoronic as it may seem, this album deserves to be heard.
Favorite Tracks: Soothsayer, Divine Anhedonia, Obolus
8. PANOPTICON - The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness I & II
Panopticon tried something incredibly interesting on this release: separating the folk elements from the black metal elements into two separate albums, culminating into one epic release. I was worried about this release feeling way too long, but I was shocked to find a release of this length so engaging. The black metal album features some awesome riffs, but the folk album sees Panopticon in a new and fascinating light. The alternation between fast folk music and slower cuts keeps the second album at the forefront of your attention even after it ends.
Favorite Tracks: The Moss Beneath The Snow, (Cowering) At The Foot Of The Mountain, Blåtimen, Sheep in Wolves Clothing
7. MGMT - Little Dark Age
MGMT released my favorite (spoiler alert) pop album of the year. The incredibly proficient synth work that culminates in a strange, dark album with catchy vocal leads and great guitar works makes for a listen that is fun, haunting, and introspective. Cuts like the title track, “Tslmap,” and “She Works Out Too Much” are just some of the best the duo has to offer, and don’t forget the David Bowie worship on “When You’re Small.” If you haven’t heard this album, you need to.
Favorite Tracks: Little Dark Age, Tslamp, When You’re Small
6. PORTAL - Ion
Ion is crushing. Ion is punishing. Ion is a tumble into an oppressive abyss that doesn’t let up even beyond its runtime. The chilling vocals and distorted guitars are paired with cacophonous drums and dark atmospheric passages that dizzy you unlike anything you have heard this year. In a word, this album is revolutionary. I only wish all death metal could be this good.
Favorite Tracks: Esp Ion Age, Olde Guarde, Husk
5. KIDS SEE GHOSTS - Kids See Ghosts
Kanye West and Kid Cudi joined forces to create my favorite hip-hop album of the year. The sounds on this album range from vibrant and beautiful atmosphere to rock to punishing and aggressive rap. I love the wide array of sounds in such a short and concise album.
Favorite Tracks: Feel the Love, 4th Dimension, Cudi Montage
4. MESARTHIM - The Density Parameter
Mesarthim is one of my favorite current black metal projects. Their unique blend of synth and black metal into a dancy and trance-inducing project is nothing short of fascinating. Their new release saw the project embrace more of the dance rhythms that are present in their music. A bold decision that paid off; this album is a work of art.
Favorite Tracks: Recombination, Ω, Collapse
3. UNDEROATH - Erase Me
Underoath, my favorite band of all time, dropped their return album—their first in 8 years and their first with Aaron behind the kit in 10 years. While some cuts on the album don’t reach the same heights that they reached in the past, there are some incredible cuts on this album that showcase the ferocity and drive that the band showed off in their mid-2000s releases. Even the most melodic cuts are something to behold, with “I Gave Up” being an Underoath that we have never heard, and I am excited to hear more from. It is really when Underoath tries to walk the line between these two sounds, things slip up. Luckily, there are very few cuts on this album where it seems they’re trying to do that.
Favorite Tracks: No Frame, In Motion, I Gave Up
2. BLACK TONGUE - Nadir
Nadir is the most crushing release of 2018. From the pounding instrumentals that take influence from deathcore, doom metal, black metal, and harsh noise to the lyrics that drag you to the area between “life and death and time,” Black Tongue make you see your innermost demons on this release, and there is no solace to be found at the end of the album.
Favorite Tracks: The Eternal Return to Ruin, Parting Soliloquy, Crippled Before the Dwelling Place of God
1. SILENT PLANET - When the End Began
When the End Began is this year’s best album. The entire package is perfect. The lyrics are moving and show an incredible amount of awareness in our current, messed-up world, and the storyline that is used to explore the different apocalypses that we may face is fascinating. Silent Planet have outdone every release of theirs. They have crafted an album that I believe is truly perfect.
Favorite Tracks: All of them, but Lower Empire is my favorite song of the year
Thank you so much for reading my top 20 albums of 2018! For my top 6 releases (and a few more), you can head over to my Instagram, @TheAncientHand, to read my more in-depth reviews.
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.