Given that their frontman Sam Loynes also keeps busy with Akercocke, The Antichrist Imperium, and Voices I can’t blame Shrines for taking six years to follow up their 2015 debut album with a four-song EP. But it helps that the EP, 2021’s Ghost Notes, is good: angular, dissonant progressive metal with pristine guitar tones, killer riffs and Loynes’ unique, melancholic voice and harmonies. While I miss the eclectic creativity and plaintive atmosphere of the debut, its good to have Shrines back and they sound like they have found a strong direction and purpose with Ghost Notes. Hopefully they won’t take so long to make their next move this time. Of all the bands in Loynes’ impressive CV this is the one I’d most like to hear more of.
May was a very black metal month here at HMO, with strong new releases from Watain and Devil Master. I also listened to the Abbath album… a lot. And three of my four reviews on the blog were of that nefarious ilk.
In the comments, Kingcrimsonprog brought up the fun topic of mis-spellings on album sleeves. Any favourites typos out there? It wasn’t on a sleeve but my fave is in the Paul Stanley ad above. Can you spot it? It’s a belter.
Soulful rock goodness from the perennial HMO man crush.
Alan White, Yes drummer, who has passed away aged 72. Wonderful drummer from the ultimate prog band.
Vangelis, Greek musician/composer, who has died aged 79. Best known round these parts for The Four Horsemen by Aphrodite’s Child. Top. Tune.
Record Store Day 2022
I wasn’t able to participate on the day on account of a shitey cold. But I still managed to grab what I wanted later in the week.
What I Was Listening To While I Wrote This Post
The Boston S/T. I might be in the minority in preferring the second album Don’t Look Back but the debut is awesome too. Brad Delp is one of the best singers that ever sang and I should be sick of More Than A Feeling by now. But I’m not.
The Month Ahead
I’m looking forward to the new Artificial Brain and Kreator albums and finally getting my hands on the much-delayed Mayhem De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas box set. There’s also the latest in the KISS Off The Soundboard series, a recording of their Donington ’96 show. I was there but now I can finally find out… were they genuinely boring or was I just too sunburned to appreciate them properly? Find out next time!
This is one winter wonderland you won’t be walking in. Autopsy’s In The Grip Of Winter is one of my absolute favourite death metal tracks. It’s a tale of arctic demise, perfectly expressed with (impending) doom metal swagger, panic-stricken death metal hammering and blizzardy guitar solos. It’s brilliant stuff and one of the tracks I always spin the minute I feel a chill in the air. There’s an even frostier version of this on the Mental Funeral album but this earlier version (from 1991’s Retribution For The Dead EP) emphasises the doom with its humongous, fat sound. But, no matter which version you hear, In The Grip Of Winter is a stone cold classic.
Anathema closed out their career with an album called The Optimist but back in their early days they were pessimistic purveyors of purest woe. Their 1993 debut album Serenades is growling, grinding doom: all funeral drapes, dead loved-ones and weeping willows. It puts a smile on my face though cause I love misery-guts metal and this is a great album to wallow in. The Cathedral-esque Sweet Tears is top drawer and Sleepless‘ goth melody makes it an early favourite of the band’s career. Even the more forgettable tracks like Under A Veil (Of Black Lace) have their share of cool riffs and moreishly sorrowful harmonies. Avant-garde interludes and French lady voices keep things interesting and varied. The 23 minutes of ambient wallpaper music at the end is a bit try-hard and the why/cry lyrics have a naiveté that would persist throughout the band’s career. But these minor quibbles are nothing to get sad about. Serenades is an impressive debut from a band with plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
“The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”
If I was making a playlist of my favourite songs from the previous decade Hold Your Children Close And Pray For Oblivion would definitely be on it. Taken from their 2016 album The Whole Of The Law, it’s absolutely berserk. Excoriating, industrial-grade grind mixes with hammering electronic passages. But for all their nightmarish noise, Anaal Nathrakh sure have a way with a hook and cram plenty of them in here. And in Dave Hunt, they have a vocalist versatile enough to deliver them. So when he’s not creating a white-noise shitstorm out of his face, he’s delivering an insanely catchy chorus with crazed metal god vocals and driving the song to a operatic climax. Oblivion has never been this much fun. This is what you wanted, this is what you need.
Congratulations to My Dying Bride as they celebrate 30 years of innovative, influential and thoroughly miserable metal. It’s an especially pleasing achievement given that the last five years have been particularly trying for the British band. When vocalist Aaron Stainthorpe’s young daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, he was forced to take leave from the band. And when a further two band members decided to quit during this hiatus, the band’s future looked extremely doubtful.
Thankfully Aaron’s daughter was given the all clear and the band not only survives, but thrives. On their latest album The Ghost Of Orion they sound as vital, relevant and glum as ever. With its glacial pace, less obvious song structure and Andrew Craighan’s mournful riffs, The Long Black Land is definitely one of the album’s less instant and accessible tracks. But its also one of its most powerful: a black void right at the heart of the record. Like all the best doom, it’s laden with feeling and at the 6:25min mark, when a mellow breather bursts into a lumbering, seismic riff, it’s exquisitely powerful.
You wouldn’t know it from the music but, three decades in and at the top of their game, My Dying Bride and their fans have many reasons to be cheerful.
It’s almost unrecognisable as the band that became a major force in metal years later but the early Sepultura stuff is still pretty remarkable. Brazil wasn’t a corner of the globe where anyone was expecting a metal scene to pop up and when the band recorded their 1985 debut EP Bestial Devastation (a split release with fellow countrymen Overdose) it was just emerging from decades as a military dictatorship. Musically it’s not the most amazing stuff you’ll hear from the era but the band were pretty impressive considering they were all still in their mid-teens. And they got in early enough and extreme enough that their raw, filthy undergound thrash was also a primordial stew of nascent black and death metal.
My favourite track from the EP is Necromancer, with its naive evil lyrics, grinding Celtic Frost riffs, blasts of Discharge-like speed and a wild “all notes matter” guitar solo right out of Slayer. Fun stuff. Unfortunately, my favourite part of the song is a bit that I always mishear and misremember. One of the great metal mondegreens. After the chaotic solo the song returns to a slow sludge as vocalist Max “Possessed” Cavalera sings “necromancer, dead’s invoker”. But in my world this line has always been “necromancer, dirty fucker”. And it always will be! And until they ‘fess up and admit that’s what the lyrics really were all along, I’m deducting a point.
In the early 90s, it seemed like everyone and their dog was recording covers of classic KISS. And death metal pioneers Death were no exception, taking a break from the complex technicality of their 1991 Human album to throw down a cover of God Of Thunder. Originally used as a Japanese bonus track, the cover was presumably intended more as a bit of fun than an important artistic statement as the band don’t do anything radical with the track. Outside of Chuck Schuldiner’s tortured vocals, the relentless double-bass drums and a flashier guitar solo, it’s all pretty faithful to the version on KISS’ Destroyer album. What I find interesting is that, despite the extreme metal growls and drumming, the KISS version remains darker, heavier and cooler. So, although it’s a fun listen in its own right, it also does a good job of reminding you just how powerful KISS were. I guess all those bands were covering their stuff for a reason.
Released back in 1987, before lineup changes led to a chain of events that would make them infamous, Mayhem’s debut EP Deathcrush achieved notoriety on the strength of its music alone. It’s 18 minutes of metal that’s as primal and abrasive as it gets. With neither black or death metal codified as separate musical styles yet, Deathcrush is a mercurial mix of both. The rumbling riffs and crude lyrics (“her guts were boiling out of her butt”) lean towards the fledgling death genre. But the necro production, bulldozer guitar tones and punk mentality follow in the footsteps of early Bathory, Hellhammer, Sodom et al: a course that would eventually to lead to the birth of black metal in the band’s native Norway. The howling, stubbed-toe vocals of Maniac, the harsh Quorthon-like vocals of Messiah and the spooky unease created by the avant-garde instrumentals Silvester Anfang and Weird (Manheim) all add to the palpable sense of darkness and evil that make Deathcrush a crucial evolutionary step in the black metal story. Pure Fucking Armageddon from start to finish. And the band was just getting started…
The punishingly bleak death metal on Paradise Lost’s 1990 debut Lost Paradise makes it the odd-one-out in a discography more renowned for gothic melody. But the five teenagers had only been together about a year before being faced with the challenge of recording their first record and, despite not having found their voice yet, they make a pretty decent fist of it. A lack of songcraft means it all kind of mushes together but they already have their doleful mix of riff and lead guitar down, there’s the occasional decent hook (“where is your God now?”), and the whole thing has a entrancingly subterranean atmosphere. And Lost Paradise has proven pretty influential in its own right as one of the earliest albums to slow death metal down to a miserable crawl. The Yorkshiremen would do much better with subsequent releases but fans of meat and potatoes death/doom could do a lot worse than check this out.