This third edition of The Round Up Tapes features a couple of records I really enjoyed this year that are particularly bleak in sound and/or aesthetic. Because that’s the MO of this blog and who doesn’t like to feel bleak now and then?
Black Autumn – Losing The Sun
Black Autumn have been featured on Bleak Metal once before, when the wonderful The Advent October was released at the beginning of 2013. That EP was very much a favourite of last year and so when a full length arrived, excitement abounded. Losing The Sun follows its predecessor in that the melancholy rhythms and soft touches of light filter through the darkness of the sound, yet the record also steps up and forward in terms of the emotional response that is elicited from the listener.
“Losing The Sun” begins the album with huge, sweeping guitar movements that give way to M. Krall’s rasping voice and echoing passages that create a tangible sense of deep, mournful regret. The softer edges of this first track are soon ravaged by the harsh tones of “St Elm’s Fire” that signal its approach. Those hard moments are countered by sorrowful guitar lines that cascade into the song and lift it past just being a wallowing, sadness-filled pit of despair and instead into music that provokes and intrigues.
This one man project brings much to the black metal table in the music that is created as Black Autumn. Gorgeous instrumentation moves across the work as a whole with the piano sections in particular giving a stately grace to “From Whence We Came” and in turn the song breathes with a measured acceptance that the journey is full of pain and heartache. The electronic pulses of “The Distance” shows that much beauty can be found in utter desolation and Black Autumn is a project for which this adage rings wholly true.
Losing The Sun, along with the Black Autumn catalogue, can be found on bandcamp.
Black Monolith – Passenger
Black Monolith have long been a favourite and the wait for this debut has been pretty darn extended. But hey, life happens and for the project’s only member, Gary Bettencourt, much more important things came up. Passenger also marked the first release for a brand new label – All Black Recording Company – which was founded by current Deafheaven member George Clarke, and Derek Prine, ex-bassist for the band (interestingly, Bettencourt also did a stint as a touring guitarist for band) and has certainly the curiosity of Deafheaven’s followers based on that fact alone.
Black Monolith, though, is its own entity, with Bettencourt melding the destructive beats of crust along with black metal to create a soundscape that is unique and affecting. “Void” is all bittersweet melodies while “Dead Hand” lays waste to any notions of peace with furious guitar and bombastic rhythms before “Adhere” punishes with slick drum beats and harsh, cold vocal lines that truly hit like a punch to the throat. “Eris” turns Passenger on its fiery head though, and the final track brings a deep sense of melancholy to an otherwise aggressive sound. The soft torture that runs throughout this instrumental is brutally dark and the lift from slow progressions to shimmering post-rock is one that soars and climbs and elevates the heart into lush moments of hopefulness.
Passenger can be purchased on bandcamp.
Hoth – Oathbreaker
At its core, Oathbreaker is a concept record about Darth Vader – but don’t let that distract or put you off. Yes, Hoth are named for the icy planet Luke Skywalker finds himself on in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, but the band take the themes and ideas of the Star Wars universe and turn them into music that can be understood and appreciated even if you’re not familiar with the series. The concept at the heart of Oathbreaker is the beginnings of Vader’s life, the choices he makes, his path towards darkness and his ultimate doom – ideas that most people can comprehend and recognise and ones that don’t necessarily just reflect the Star Wars canon.
“The Unholy Conception” is all driving blast beats and melodic guitars that create landscapes of cold, harsh terrain while the lyrics speak of the birth of a darkness and “Cryptic Nightmares” drives forward on a phenomenal beat that corrupts and digs deep into the mind with along with a sickeningly catchy verse structure. Vocals are rasped and blackened and the quick pace of the words is truly impressive – Hoth have built a world around their lyrics that comes to life in the cadence of the delivery and the style is on point throughout.
“Serpentine Whispers” throws huge chants and choral style vocals into the mix before soaring guitars solos take the song on a journey of epic proportions. “Unending Power” comes across as much more death metal influenced in its approach with chugging guitars and a disgustingly memorable chorus that churns and digs and is full of bitterness.
Oathbreaker is appealing, clever and one of the most interesting records of the year and although its subject matter is fairly niche in terms of the inspiration, the themes contained within the album translate much further. This is rock opera at its best.
Oathbreaker is available on bandcamp now.
Sunsmasher – Hell/Noise/Church
Sunsmasher hail from Glasgow and their sound is solidly sludge influenced with this short EP showcasing the quartet’s desires to lay it down thick, heavy and noisily. Hell/Noise/Church begins on the churning “Axe To Grind” which throws out anguished howls against the slow burning guitars and deep, rumbling bass lines before “Redeemer” takes it a step further with huge riffs that play off against the harsh vocals and curious little guitar inflections that evoke Palehorse’s take on sludge.
Hell/Noise/Church can be found on bandcamp.