Black Breath – Sentenced to Life

Black Breath

Sentenced to Life
Southern Lord
Seattle’s hardcore thrashers Black Breath have whipped up such a frenzy in the last two or three years after unleashing ‘Razor to Oblivion‘ and debut album ‘Heavy Breathing‘, while touring the blue hell out of both of them. Such is the fervour generated in this short space of time has inevitably led to ‘Sentenced to Life‘ becoming one of 2012’s most anticipated albums, but at the same time it’s anticipation that should be tempered with caution. No doubt there are still a few people sniping with the ‘Entombed-lite’ tag, not just at Black Breath, but at the entire hardcore/d-beat movement that has recently been forged with huge backing, particularly from Southern Lord. And the surprise that Black Breath caught people with on ‘Heavy Breathing‘ is no longer that. I hate to refer to that ‘difficult second album’ cliché, but it’s true.
Thankfully, Black Breath avoid any major pitfalls on album number two, and ‘Sentenced to Life‘, while largely more of the same as their back catalogue, is still is good thirty-odd minutes to let loose and bang your head to. The opener ‘Feast of the Damned’ has a nice drum and vocal chant of ‘my flesh, my blood, you’re dead, Feast of the Damned!‘ That is just one of many of the album’s highlights, which reveal themselves more upon repeated listens. ‘Home of the Grave’ has all the potential as a lead single from the album to propel the band into bigger leagues, while tracks like ‘Of Flesh’ see the band absolutely on fire with a full on death-metal blastbeat interjecting the track part way through. Conversely, ‘Obey’ is the band’s longest track to date, beginning with a creepy spoken word intro and leading to a slow burner mixing Black Breath’s dark riffage and intensity with a tremendous rock n’ roll solo towards the end.


Black Breath – Home of the Grave (official video)
There are more signature moments on the album but they’re too numerous to get into. I would advise people to give this album at least a couple of listens though – it didn’t hit me straight away like their initial releases, but it’s not a difficult album to get into at all, essentially just press play and headbang. Eventually you will observe the progress made by the band since ‘Heavy Breathing’, however subtle or however hastily-written this album apparently was. The result is still unmistakably Black Breath, reaffirming their status as one of the best new bands of the last few years. Obey.
Peter Clegg

Earth – Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Earth
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II

Southern Lord

At this stage in their career, there’s been so many words used to describe Earth’s ever changing sound that there’s pretty much no more superlatives available to describe them. So we’ll keep it simple and describe new album ‘Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II‘ for what it is. Recorded at the same time as part I, ‘Angels II‘ sees Earth supplying yet more lush riff-orientated sonic soundscapes, continuing down the drone desert blues path forged since their reinvention by mainman Dylan Carlson seven years ago now.

Setting the scene with ‘Sigil of Brass’, ‘Angels II‘ is another slice of Morricone-tinged compositions, led as ever by the timeless Carlson. Lori Goldston turns in another impressive performance, and her work on the cello is particularly notable, especially on ‘Multiplicity of Doors’, a thirteen-minute doozy where she takes centre stage. Goldston is always noticeable but never overpowering, remaining the ideal foil to Carlson’s guitar and perfect for the setting Earth seek to project. Where drummer Adrienne Davies is in the picture, she too sets the tone with elegant percussion scattered across this track and selectively across the album.Ultimately one of the highlights has to be ‘The Rakehell’, an incredible slow jam with a cracking groove throughout that would make for a fantastic bluesy number if the pace was quickened.

That said, as with any Earth album, you really need to listen to it as a whole to fully realise its majesty. Doing so will allow you, the listener, to immerse yourself in its riches time and again. It doesn’t quite top its predecessor but its a recommended record nonetheless, and I suspect you still won’t find many better this year.

Peter Clegg

Buy ‘Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II‘ here 

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Loincloth – Iron Balls of Steel

Loincloth
Iron Balls of Steel
Southern Lord
2012 is still young and already we’ve received in our inbox the first new album of the year, from latest Southern Lord signees Loincloth. With a title such as ‘Iron Balls of Steel’, you wouldn’t be wrong to assume what lies within is the chest-beating, fist-pounding true heavy metal made famous by the likes of Manowar and …erm… Manowar! However, that’s not strictly true; despite featuring two members of legendary death/doom metal act Confessor (in guitarist Cary Rowells and drummer Steve Shelton), Loincloth’s approach mixes beefy heavy metal riffs into a progressive/technical stew. And sadly, stew is quite appropriate – cos personally, I found it’s a little difficult to pick out anything that stands out about ‘Iron Balls of Steel’.
Don’t get me wrong, riff wise, there’s plenty of them, every song supplying a beefy chug, brimming with time changes, tempo changes, stop start rhythms, etc. It just feels completely lacking in direction. The lack of vocals is one thing – it shouldn’t necessarily matter in this day and age whether a metal band has a vocalist or not. But a lot of this album’s songs don’t even clock in above two minutes, leading to a primarily ‘interlude’ feeling to some of the tracks; where they do spread their legs a little, there’s nothing particularly interesting going on, everything melding into a mush. At times, they could actually do with a singer. More appropriate, they could do with a few more ideas. Other instrumental bands, for example, Serious Beak (whom we recently reviewed) thrive on keeping the listener on their toes, even injecting a bit of atmosphere. You don’t bemoan their lack of a singer as their train is constantly rolling. Loincloth’s instru-metal is cold and only occasionally splutters into life, doing little else besides; a critical downfall.
Progressive metal has been given plenty of technical sheen over the last few years and while I don’t doubt Loincloth’s passion for their music, really I don’t see how it compares to the more natural, often younger bands of today who pull this off with more flair and supreme skill, whether you like them or not. For a band containing former members of Confessor, I’m sure they won’t care for a review like this, and I don’t particularly enjoy savaging albums; but the fact is, there’s not really much good I can say about this album. And yes, admittedly I bought the press garb, and wound up disappointed.
Peter Clegg

Iron Balls of Steel’ is released on Monday 16th January, 2012. Pre-order it here

Black Cobra – Invernal

Black Cobra

Invernal
Southern Lord 

You know that slogan we have at the top? That we’re dedicated to covering all things heavy, groovy and generally kick-ass? Well. ‘Invernal’, the new album from stoner metal duo Black Cobra, is certainly befitting of that motto. Particular the third attribute, because shit goddamn, I really felt like I’d gone 12 rounds with Manny Pacquiao after listening to this.

The first couple of tracks, ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Somnre Tenerbre’ completely steamroll, opposition falling to a barrage of slick-heavy riffs and a relentless drum beat. Following that, ‘Invernal‘ settles down into more of a mid-paced vibe. ‘Corrosion Fields’ begins with a doomy, echoey intro, before hitting the power surge again with a sweet slower, hookier riff. That expansion allows it to blossom into one of ‘Invernal‘s premier tracks with some great riff and tempo changes, and sets the tone for the remainder of the record.

That said, its not all travelling in the same gear, and Black Cobra’s ability to further land blows upon you unsuspectingly is again displayed on ‘Beyond’; starting with another lone guitar line and again building the drums upon the guitar upon the drums, before launching into a scuzzy, thrashy bludgeoner. It lets up again halfway through, giving you enough time for respite with a quieter, doom twang, before picking you up again for yet more punishment.

It suckerpunches again later in the album to great effect, drawing you in with the instrumental ‘Abyss’ – a decent enough track, perhaps marking an event somewhere in the album’s story in its overall mood. It lurches from one riff to another but is perhaps best served as foil for the closer, ‘Obliteration’, which is absolutely furious. ‘Invernal‘s shortest track begins with a single snare, before launching a full on blackened thrash assault. The drums blast amid a swamp of riffery and all out attack. It abruptly finishes. Game over. You’re out cold.

Guitarist Jason Landrian and drummer Rafael Martinez have certainly brought their A-game to album number four, and show an increased maturity by basing ‘Invernal’ on the works and Antartic expeditions of Ernest Shackleton – with a post-apocalyptic twist. There’s a hint of High on Fire about some of the songs this time, which is no bad thing, although its distinct from Matt Pike’s power trio. I wouldn’t quite say its up there with the best albums of the year, and having not yet seen them live, I’d love to see how their sound on record stacks up against their much-lauded live show. But there’s no denying compared to previous releases this is a step up for Black Cobra, and any release that possesses as much venom and bite as the snake it shares it name with (on this occasion) is a winner in my book.

Peter Clegg

Invernal‘ is released on Monday October 31st. Pre-order it here.


Sarabante – Remnants

Sarabante

Remnants
Southern Lord

At one point, Southern Lord were using the slogan ‘Let There Be Doom’, and you couldn’t see them looking beyond pumping out Sunn 0))) and Burning Witch records for all eternity. But lately, Greg Anderson and co. have taken quite an interest in all things hardcore/punk. Indeed, with a roster that now boasts like Black Breath, Nails, Trap Them, All Pigs Must Die, etc., it seems that Southern Lord have quite the gambit on anything crusty sounding, anything that screams raw anger and bile through the speakers at a considerably faster pace than any of the label’s previous numerous funeral dirges, without sacrificing the heavy.

Reaching out across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean, Southern Lord have now snapped up Greek hardcore crew Sarabante. The first track ‘Πνιγμένοι Στη Σιωπή (which according to Google translate means ‘Drowned In Silence’) starts off with a cracking instrumental section, nice and heavy, before the vocals come in, which are nothing too out of the ordinary, though they are nice, aggressively shouty vocals. Musically Sarabante provide a tight attack, providing some speedy aggressive melodies and even showing a bit of variation during the slower mid-section, ‘Our Day of Torment (Here & Now)’ in particular showing the band drawing on influences from further afield such as Neurosis.
The production’s not always perfect, and the backing vocals, particularly on closing track ‘Do You Feel Safe?‘ seem barely audible amongst the maelstrom, but the overall quality shines through and Sarabante provide an enjoyable d-beat romp. ‘Remnants’ is 34 politically-fuelled minutes seething with rage and anger, particularly given recent events in Greece, and there’s sure to be plenty of coals to stoke the fire further down the line. A solid debut offering overall, and under Southern Lord, there’s sure to be plenty to hear from this band in the future.
Peter Clegg


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Sarabante official blog (translated to English)
Bandcamp

Acephalix – Interminable Night

Acephalix
Interminable Night
Southern Lord/Agipunk

Acephalix were originally more or less a crust-punk band, but on their second full length (if you can call it that), they’ve made a shift towards death metal. Regarding the term ‘full-length’ – ‘Interminable Night’ contains only seven tracks and clocks in at 25 minutes. But that’s all that’s required for you to get your ass kicked by this album.
You won’t find any blasting at all here; instead you’ll find plenty of crusty-death action that harks back to bands like Dismember and Nihilist. There’s nothing innovative going on here, but what they have got is head-pounding riffs in abundance and they’re designed for get fists in the air and heads banging up and down in worship. Tracks like ‘Christhole’ and ‘In Arms of Nothing’ are designed to damage and damage they do. The guitars scream pure evil at times, particularly during the solos, which hark like Kerry King’s in the way they sound on occasion as they wail into contention.
Vocalist Dan has an immense range about him, possessing a real guttural roar at times, which at times he holds for almost inhuman lengths of time and can warp into a scream at the right moments. It adds an extra dimension to Acephalix’s sound in itself; again, it’s not innovative, but it’s bloody effective.
If you had to nitpick, there’s not much variety between the songs, but it’s rare that I enjoy albums in such a way that I just want to go ape and at 25 minutes, it’s short enough to do just that and not get bored at all. There’s just enough variation at least in terms of speed – they do slow it down a little on the closing title-track – but it never feels to relent. Death metal is in safe hands with acts like Acephalix on the horizon.
This album has been out a few months now and was on limited pressing – originally 1000 copies through Agipunk, and a further pressing of 2000 CDs through Southern Lord. It’s still available as a CD; links below. It’s a worthy investment.
Peter Clegg