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.
Nevrast can be purchased via bandcamp.
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.
Occasionally a live show comes along which proves to be utterly compulsory to attend. For those that miss out on said event, the jealously is all-consuming, for those who were lucky enough to grab a ticket early on, the glow of happiness is hard to ignore. One such show was Yob’s appearance in London along with the phenomenal Pallbearer (for many, the main draw) and local doomsters Bast at The Underworld in Camden.
Panopticon has long been a figure on the outer limits of American black metal, a one man band with his foot on both sides of the opposing styles of contemporary black metal – the visceral nature of the genre being incredibly forthcoming on 2011s Social Disservices while the folkier elements of the scene were more present on 2012s Kentucky – both though, held much in the way of personal emotion and it’s clear that for Austin Lunn, Panopticon is an outlet for many different feelings and as such his music is a way of working through life and the odd nature of being human. Roads To The North sublimely incorporates both aspects of Panopticon but make no mistake, this record is angry, heartfelt and deeply, deeply personal.
Woods of Desolation’s incredible Torn Beyond Reason from 2011 was a definite highlight of that year and its cold, harsh soundscapes made for a record which evoked a journey into the depths of winter – quite the feat considering they’re an Australian band but one that was deftly handled and sorrow-laden in all the right places. The Woods of Desolation of 2014 is an altogether different animal, with sole member D. eschewing Tim Yatras’ (Germ, Autumn’s Dawn, ex-Austere) recognisable shriek for another voice and thus creating an atmosphere that feels considerably warmer in tone, but no less harrowing for the change.