Bern’s Dachstock is the kind of venue that seems lived in; the graffiti that adorns every available wall space feels like it’s been there since the dawn of time and the punk aesthetic that seeps into the atmosphere is the kind that you’d have expected to find when Neurosis were still starting out – it’s fitting then, that this is the place that they are playing this evening and the hot, stifling air only adds to the electric atmosphere that is already rippling through the venue as Oakland’s Kowloon Walled City take to the stage.
The quartet are heavy where it counts and despite the weighty tones thrown out by the guitars and prominent bass, there is a sparse feeling to their sound – the music is allowed to breathe and move around Scott Evans’ voice, which is throaty and rage-filled from beginning to end, while still fulfilling the sludge aesthetic. Kowloon Walled City play with their sound enough to make them stand out from the crowded “post” scene and their approach is crushing and one that leaves the audience visibly shaken.
The second part of my Roadburn Festival coverage can be found below (the first part is here). Please forgive the lapses into first person narrative – it’s not something that I do very often at all but Roadburn has been a deeply personal experience each time I’ve attended and I feel that I couldn’t have taken a step back from it while writing something about it.
2018’s edition was a strange time for me; I’d moved country a few months prior and still had many unsettled feelings and that I didn’t really belong anywhere yet. The music I saw that year hit hard and seeing Bell Witch, Worship and Mizmor in one long day really took me to places I had tried not to think about. This year I feel more at home in my new country and the experience of the festival was reflected in that. I felt grief for the person I once was but also hope for what is to come. There is so much relief to be found this year, and this culminated in the Have A Nice Life performance on the main stage on Sunday – I can finally let go of my fears and embrace the future.
Beginning a review is always the most difficult part of the writing process. There are many thoughts and feelings that you want to express and so many experiences that you want to put across in the right way and your train of thought moves fluidly from one thing to the next…. but getting that down in a coherent and interesting way is something that often falls short. For a weekend spent at Roadburn Festival that process becomes ten times more difficult as experiences are not exactly in short supply and each person has their own unique take on what the city of Tilburg has given them for the four day festival run. No two people will likely have exactly the same experience of Roadburn and it’s often said by the festival team and those who have attended many times “Roadburn is what you make of it, it’s personal, it’s yours.” And that is such a true statement. This is my third Roadburn and while it’s not a festival I can claim to have been to as many times as another person…it often feels like some bands are being booked directly out of my dreams and for the thousands of other attendees this is most probably true for them. Somehow Walter gets into your mind and pulls out your musical desires and the festival becomes as much a part of you as it is for the organisers.
That whole thing where I promised to be more active with this kinda failed but here’s a couple of cool releases that you might find interesting.
Circaic – False Prophetic Roads
If you like huge, technical death metal with a side of melody then Circaic might be the band for you. Melding the darkness with the light isn’t a new tactic, but Circaic’s stab at melodic death metal is solid and will see them on their way to something bigger. False Prophetic Roads still has a hint of immaturity about it – some sections in the opening track “The Spewing of Venom” don’t quite hit the mark or flow as well as they could with the kind of cohesion you’d want to hear – but the young band have something here to be worked on and occasionally there’s a little hint of what that could be.
You can hear some tracks from False Prophetic Roads on their bandcamp page.
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.
If you’ve been reading Bleak Metal for a while (in which case, wow, thank you) then you may remember my End of Year list from, well, the end of last year. Now, I spoke a lot there about how terrible 2013 had been in a lot of respects, the biggest being that pretty soon I would be out of a job. That happened, and it sucked but y’know, I’m so bloody glad about it. Because losing that job meant that I got to do something hecka cool this summer – I went to America and attended Gilead Fest. And holy crap, it was brilliant. At that festival I saw friendly internet faces, bands I never thought I’d get to see (two of which I will talk about below) and I saw up close the passion and commitment that one of my favourite labels has for the community. I reviewed the event for Subterranea/Metal Hammer and you can see it here.
I also met some lovely people, two of whom were Bettina and Jonathan from Thrill Jockey Records who then put me in touch with Ken from the UK side. Since then Ken has sent some excellent works, a few of which I will now talk about because no one wants to hear me bang on about myself and the music is much more interesting.
It’s no secret that one of my favourite discoveries this year has been Swiss band Schammasch – after being sent the record to review (which still isn’t done, oops) and then creating a snazzy two page feature on the band for Subterranea, it was pretty darn exciting to hear that they would be heading out on tour with Dark Fortress (another band who have released an incredible record this year) and German legends Secrets of the Moon. All three bands bring something different to the blackened table and to hear them play off and against each other on The Underworld’s stage is quite the treat indeed.
I like to makes lists. So many lists. My “to do” list is, quite frankly, massive. I thought that instead of trying to do twenty individual reviews that would take approximately one million years, that perhaps once a month I would collect together a few cool little releases that have come my way and talk about them and why they are good. A lot has happened this year (mostly bad, some good) so it would save my sanity because there are not enough hours in the day to do everything that needs doing.
And so, The Round Up Tapes are born. Hat tip to Opeth because I made a play on a name of a release of theirs. I hope that’s cool?
Ainulindalë – Nevrast
Nevrast is a gorgeous, folky and affecting record from the French project Ainulindalë which is centred around Tolkein’s universe and heavily influenced by The Silmarillion. Ainulindalë’s sound is comprised of dark elements that contrast with lighter, sunnier currents that shine through the acoustic progressions of sole member Engwar’s guitar and his voice which carries with it a gorgeous tone that embraces the subtleties of his music and wraps it in warmth and soul. Nevrast incorporates simple movements that link together to create a work that ebbs and flows with a tender grace while Engwar’s vocal layers over majestic strings to lift tracks to a higher plane of beauty. The title track dips into choral lines that slowly build to a brass and a female voice that shimmers with light over the shadows created by the words of Engwar.
Nevrast moves with a refined style that genuinely moves and breathes with a deep-rooted love and knowledge of J.R.R. Tolkein’s work and never comes across as cliché or overwrought. The emotion is honest and the music breathtaking.
Saor aren’t an entirely new prospect, having began life in 2012 as Àrsaidh, yet Aura is a significant step up from the debut Roots and an incredible testament to learning, growing and becoming better. On Aura, sole member Andrew Marshall takes everything he has and creates a record of constant movement and power while also staying true to the roots of the band and being essentially, a lovesong to his homeland of Scotland.
This time around, Marshall allows other musicians to mark their mark on his sounds and Aura features performances from Panopticon’s Austin Lunn on drums and violin/strings are provided by the hardest working player in the business, Johan Becker. The traditional elements of the music are still in place yet everything seems so much more solid, rounded and thought out. That’t not to say that Roots wasn’t an exceptional record, but that time is a glorious thing and Aura benefits from it immensely.
Forming in Oklahoma City, Idre are a melancholic, earthy and hypnotic entity. The former trio (now duo for the time being due to bassist Andon Whitehorn recently taking his leave of the band) are a delicious entry into the atmospheric sphere and their sound is quite difficult to pin down. Taking in elements of doom, sludge, drone and noise, even a martial beat (Nicholas Wojcik) during second track “Witch Trial”, Idre travel the path towards oblivion in many different ways yet their gloomy aura is coherent and each passage moves deftly into the next without losing track of the core of the band.
Vocals are sparse but delightfully gothic in tone with guitarist Ryan Davis adding a new sphere of darkness to proceedings with the recordings on this two track full length taking on a somewhat doomed country feeling at times – think True Widow or Earth’s latest for comparisons – and the sprawling, sculpted landscapes of sound the record conjures are truly mesmerising.