Graves at Sea – The Curse That Is (Relapse Records, 01 April 2016)
After forming nearly fifteen years ago, taking some time off and then reforming with a number of line-up changes over the years, and recording a spattering of demos and EPs and singles and splits during all that time, TOMORROW (Friday, April 1st) the crushing doom entity that is Graves at Sea will finally drop its debut full-length record on an unsuspecting world. A preview copy of The Curse That Is showed up in my email inbox earlier this month, while I was away on vacation. I was pretty excited to check it out, so as soon as I found myself with a spare 75+ minutes to sit and listen to it, I made sure to seize the opportunity. Which happened to be on the plane ride back home. Honestly, the irony inherent in that situation — listening to a band called that while watching the flight attendants demonstrate the use of flotation devices and various other safety features — didn’t dawn on me at all until sometime later.
Anyway, like I said, the album comes out tomorrow, so I’d like to tell you a little more about it. And then, about a week and a half from now, the band will be heading across the country to take a trip up the east coast — their first time doing so in quite a few years — with Atlanta’s Order of the Owl (who, you may recall, put on a hell of a show themselves, as I had discussed here a couple of years ago). So once you reach the end of this article, keep on scrolling to the comments section, where I’ll include a list of dates and cities these two groups will be visiting.
Venus Sleeps – Dead Sun Worship (on cassette via Tartarus Records, 22 March 2016; originally released 13 March 2015)
Brigantia – “Midnight” (self-released, 28 May 2015)
Hello out there, and good afternoon! Hope your week is going well — as for myself, I’m just relieved that it’s halfway over. Anyway, I’ve been planning on telling you about the debut album by Irish psychedelic doom band Venus Sleeps, which has been out for a while now but I just discovered it when it was re-released by Tartarus Records last week.
Well today that’s just what I’m going to do, except that I also decided to throw in an extra treat for you all: a song that was put out last spring by another Irish doom band, Brigantia, which you can download for free. Think of it as kind of a bonus track at the end of the article. I’ve got a feeling you’ll enjoy both of these …
Kavyk – Hymns and Hollow Words (self-released, 22 April 2015)
Crawl – Old Wood & Broken Dreams (Stone Groove Records, 18 October 2014)
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! Today I’m going to discuss a pair of releases — each of these was submitted to me by one of the members of each band a little while ago for me to check out, which I’ve done, and to share with all of you, which I’m doing now.
The first of these, released nearly a year ago, is the debut EP from a blackened doom band from Louisiana; although this band is relatively new, its members have been around for a while in various other projects (including one that was written about here on Valley of Steel, not long after the time this EP was released). The second one is a little older, almost a year and a half old by now, and it comes to us from a sludgier doom band out of Atlanta, Georgia — a band which also has been written about previously on this very website. And so, let’s just jump right in …
Tau Cross – Tau Cross (Relapse Records, 19 May 2015)
Hello, and happy Easter Monday! Today’s kind of an ugly, rainy day here in Pittsburgh, so I guess it’s not such a bad thing that I’m stuck at work. Maybe the weather is nicer where you live, and maybe you don’t have to work because maybe in your country today is an official holiday — folks many parts of the world will be celebrating the beginning of Eastertide. In either case, I’d like to talk about an album that was released almost a year ago — actually, it was during the last week before Pentecost, the conclusion of the Eastertide season.
That album is the self-titled debut of crust-post-punk supergroup Tau Cross, whose name comes from the T-shaped symbol of the Franciscan Monks, based on the Greek letter Τ (Tau). In traditional symbolism, this letter is used to represent the cross, since ταυ is an abbreviation for the word Σταυρός (Stavros, which means “Cross”), and because the letter itself is cross-shaped. As such, the Tau symbol has also come to stand for Resurrection, and by extension, is closely associated with Jesus — nearly as much as the letter Χ (Chi).
Anyway, that’s surely enough of a history lesson for today, let’s get to the music! As an added bonus (for those who live in the northeastern U.S. — which includes Pittsburgh! — or southeastern Canada), scroll down to the comments section to find details about the band’s trip across the region which starts tomorrow night and runs for about a week and a half — their first live performances ever!
Amon Amarth – Jomsviking (Metal Blade, 25 March 2016)
Well, it seems like this really turned into a week filled with black metal (or some form or variant of blackened-whatever), didn’t it? That wasn’t on purpose or anything, there just happened to be a few interesting things within that realm that I had wanted to share with you. But today we’ll be turning in a completely different direction: Viking metal!
(That was a little joke to piss off the Internet Metal Nerds, because the subject of whether Viking metal is really a thing, and if it is, how it should be classified, has been discussed endlessly, without ever really reaching a conclusion except for the fact that, as typified by bands like Enslaved and Bathory, it’s [somewhat] widely accepted as a subset of the black metal genre.)
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about at all — today’s topic is more along the lines of melodic/epic/anthemic metal. But I mean, look at that album cover (above)! Listen to the music (there will be previews near the end of the article)! Look at that photo of this band’s incredible stage setup from when I saw them a few years ago (below)! Despite their name (which means “Mount Doom,” a reference to the volcano from the Lord of the Rings books and movies), everything about Amon Amarth just screams “Viking metal”! What else would you call them?
In any case, this bunch of Swedes have a brand new album (their tenth) coming out tomorrow, so we’re going to take a look at that. Also, they’re coming back to the U.S. and Canada in about two weeks, marauding their way across the continent throughout April and May, so be sure to take a peek down at the comment section below where I’ll include the full list of those tour dates…
Writhe – The Shrouded Grove (self-released, 22 September 2014)
“One-man black metal band” — or perhaps to be more accurate, “one-man black metal project.” What do you think of when you hear (read) those words? It sort of makes my skin crawl just to type them. In my line of work (expert music-opinion-haver), the phrase almost always means bad news: some kid who lives in his parents basement downloaded some pirated sound editing software onto his Macbook, cut-and-pasted the same generic drumbeat for twelve minutes, plugged his crappy guitar directly into the line-in input, screamed some stuff about the Impending Conquest of the Dark Lord Urkel Grue into the built-in laptop mic, and then ran the whole thing through some cheesy preset distortion plug-in. Then found some old black-and-white picture of some old buildings using Google image search, photoshopped some nonsense like “Desolation of Solitude” (using Parchment font) onto it, and then emailed it all to me. The message probably started out by saying “Infernal Hailz.” Never a good sign.
But today — surprise!! — I’m going to introduce you to something that goes against all of those stereotypes…
Cormorant – Earth Diver (self-released, 08 April 2014)
Well, sleep-walking my way to the bus this morning really felt like a reality check. Tuesday mornings are generally pretty tough anyway, but following a week and a half of vacation, it just makes it that much harder. To be clear, I’ve been back to work and back to “the real world” for several days now, but today I’m really feeling like “Oh yeah, I forgot how much going to work sucks, I could really use a vacation.”
Speaking of which, how was my vacation? It was nice, thanks for asking. I’ve learned that they don’t call Florida “The Sunshine State” for nothing, everything is way too bright there, and it was some god-awful temperature (well above 80° every single day — in the middle of March!!) and the humidity was nearly unbearable. But on the plus side, I did see all sorts of fascinating nature and wildlife — especially birds. There were birds everywhere, fancy exotic kinds I’d never seen outside of a zoo or even some I’d never seen anywhere. For example, the little guy pictured below, who I encountered in a mangrove swamp while hiking through a place called Bailey Tract on Sanibel Island.
Éohum – Ealdfaeder (Mycelium Networks, 18 March 2016)
Have you ever noticed that the first example of something you hear — not all of the time, but pretty often — tends to have a profound impact on you and can color or influence your perception of any similar thing you hear later? For example, the first album you hear by a particular artist, even though that album might not be critically or generally viewed as their best work or even among their best, nevertheless will often establish itself as your favorite album by that artist. It’s an often-repeated joke, that upon an artist releasing new material, hipster-type people will commonly declare their previous albums (or their first demo) to be vastly superior. Since another cliche about hipsters is that they always claim to have heard of (or been fans of) a band or style of music before it had become familiar to the general public, it seems that claiming that an artist’s first material was better than their later work kind of goes hand-in-hand with having been familiar with that artist earlier than most other people — because it seems natural that in such a case one would indeed feel more of an affinity towards that earlier material, that having been the example of the artist’s work that was heard first. (I suppose it’s when these claims are made falsely, or as an affectation, that the derisive term ‘hipster’ would come into play, but that’s a different subject entirely.)
Anyway, the reason I brought up this discussion in the first place was that I had been thinking about my earliest encounters with black metal. Outside of a brief exposure to Celtic Frost at a rather young age, at a time when that vocal style was so far removed from anything I’d ever heard up to that point that I wasn’t even sure how to react to it, my relationship with black metal as a genre began somewhere around 1999-2000, at the height of the Napster era. I was in my early twenties and had started branching out as widely as possible, discovering anything I could get my hands on. Almost by accident, I had stumbled upon the Cradle of Filth song “Malice through the Looking Glass,” and it was like a whole new world had opened up to me. That orchestral introduction, and the way that unworldly shriek pierces through it, the insane-sounding metal arrangement that should never work juxtaposed with those symphonic elements but somehow it just does.
From there, I sought out anything similar I could find; I quickly developed an affinity for bands like Immortal and, especially, Emperor — anyone who was taking that black metal sound and combining it with other contrasting sounds. Sure, there was plenty out there that used the keyboards or samples in an over-the-top, cheesy manner, and I tried to avoid these as much as possible, but I also learned that once I’d experienced the symphonic variety, regular straight-up black metal just felt kind of stagnant and unexciting. And it all comes back to what I had heard first — so that, still to this day, I have a tendency toward music that blends different things in new and interesting ways. Today I’ve got an example to share with you: a Canadian band that includes some unexpected instruments within its arrangements …
The Second Coming of Heavy, Chapter One – Geezer / Borracho (Ripple Music, 26 July 2015)
The Second Coming of Heavy, Chapter Two – Supervoid / Red Desert (Ripple Music, 27 February 2016)
“Now it’s time for YOUR Classic Rock” says the title at the top of Ripple Music‘s website, and the slogan is fitting: since its formation back in 2010, the label has made a name for itself as one of the premier sources for stoner rock and metal, psychedelic rock, and all things fuzz-laden. We’ve talked about some of their releases in the past, for example here and also here, but more generally, the label has come to be known for putting out music of consistent quality, within the circles of those styles. And now (starting last summer), they have begun a brand-new series of 12″ splits called The Second Coming of Heavy, which so far has featured some pretty serious heavy hitters, with plenty more on the way. Today we’re going to take a look at the first two of these, Chapter One which came out nearly eight months ago, and Chapter Two which hit the streets at the end of February.