Hells Headbangers is one of those labels that cranks out the hits faster than I can write about them. And while I’m usually opposed to these types of roundup style reviews, my recent Oodles of Brutals series (HERE and HERE) has taught me that it can actually be pretty fun to write them and other people seem to dig it, which is always a nice perk. Not only that, but let’s be honest, not every metal album, no matter how great it is, warrants a full-on 400 to 700 word review. So without further ado, I present my thoughts on a ton of recent releases from the goddamn mighty HHR. If you’re not familiar with this ridiculously awesome and quality consistent label, consider this a way to get your feet wet. If you’re a longtime fan, you’ve probably snapped all of these up already, so just consider this “bonus material.” Onward and downward…
The award for most improved band on the HHR roster goes to Australia’s Denouncement Pyre, who have seriously upped their game with Almighty Arcanum, their second album overall and the first to be recorded as a full-on band (previous album World Cremation was the sole work of guitarist/vocalist/mastermind Decaylust and a session drummer). World Cremation was a fine debut effort, but Almighty Arcanum benefits from better better production, better riffs and flat-out better songs.
Decaylust has done time in the great Nocturnal Graves, so you know what you’re getting with Almighty Arcanum; a nasty black/death/thrash concoction with that feral gnarliness that only the Australians seem to be able to properly capture, as well as a scathing atmosphere that serves to place most of the emphasis firmly on black metal. That said, the catchy riffs and the occasional bursts of slicing lead guitar are pure thrash, and there is an old school mentality that serves Denouncement Pyre well in helping the songwriting stick out from the rest of the black pack. The production is clear enough to get the point across but retains enough grit ‘n’ grime to compliment the aggression.
My love for the Australian metal scene is well documented, so it’s entirely likely that I’m biased as hell towards this shit, but I’ll be damned if Denouncement Pyre aren’t one of the few bands doing this type of hybrid black/death metal in 2013 that can still make my ears prick up, thanks to their combination of precision, passion and prowess. Carry on, gentlemen, carry on.
Technically, Vomitor’s The Escalation was released at the tail end of 2012, but since I never got to write about it then, now seems like as good a time as any. Another Australian band with a penchant for blackened death metal motherfuckery of the highest order, Vomitor bring it sleazier, sloppier and filthier than just about any other band out there, and I absolutely love it. Their last album, the disgusting Devil’s Poison, was one of my top albums for 2010, and The Escalation would’ve undoubtedly made my 2012 list had I been given the opportunity to explore its sickening depths sooner, as it is even more putrid than its predecessor.
The Escalation sees Horror Illogium of Portal joining the band on guitar, which probably goes a long way towards explaining the frenzied, chaotic assault Vomitor brings to the table here. Granted, they’ve always been pretty frenzied, but it seems that with this album things have reached a barely controlled fever-pitch, not due to speed, but a combination of reverbed-to-hell vocals, solos that make King and Hanneman sound like Mozart and a guitar tone that mimics a wide array of malfunctioning antique power-tools. These guys get so far out there on tracks like “Salem Witches Grave” that it damn-near becomes psychedelic.
Vomitor might just be the ugliest sounding band on the entire HHR roster, and when you look at the competition they’ve got (Nunslaughter, Nocturnal Blood, Cultes des Ghoules, etc), that’s really fucking saying something. If you like your black/death metal with a dose of nuclear scuzz, you’ve come to the right place.
Much like Denouncement Pyre, Poland’s Cultes des Ghoules is a band that seemingly gets better (and more harrowing) with every release. I was a big fan of their debut full length Häxan, but that album ultimately only scratched the surface of what this band is capable of, as evidenced by the great Conjurers of Archaic Powers split w/ Goat Tyrant and the beyond killer Spectres over Transylvania EP. But as good as those recordings were, they did not prepare me for what Cultes des Ghoules have achieved with Henbane.
It isn’t easy for metal bands to achieve a truly arcane and evil feeling; over forty years of genre history has taught us that it’s not as simple as tuning down your guitar and scribbling some lyrics about Satan. With Henbane, Cultes des Ghoules crafts a soundscape that will have you believing beyond a shadow of a doubt that the band has tapped into something metaphysical; call it witchcraft/the occult/dark arts/whatever, there is a truely ritualistic vibe at work here (and by ritualistic I mean actual rituals, not metal gigs at shithole bars), the same inexplicable current of darkness that Lovecraft tapped into when he envisioned the Cthulhu Mythos. I realize I throw the term Lovecraftian around way too often, but I honestly think that in 2013 Cultes des Ghoules are rivaled only by Portal in creating this kind of vibe, although their approaches couldn’t be more different. Cultes des Ghoules are far more rooted in traditional black metal, but they take its ethos of obscurity to a level that few bands can, a level populated by nameless, forgotten gods and nourished by blood sacrifice.
Henbane is as dynamic as it is horrific; Cultes des Ghoules songwriting prowess has grown by leaps and bounds since the days of Häxan, sprawling in many directions but never coming off as unfocused or self-indulgent. The recording quality is raw and lo-fi, but as is often the case in the realm of black metal, this is a great help rather than a hindrance, adding to that aforementioned atmosphere but never at the expense of detracting from the ample craftsmanship behind the songs.
Cultes des Ghoules have made an astounding effort to put their own unique spin on black metal, and at a time when bands think putting a dolled up Grace Slick impersonator at the front of the stage makes you “occult,” these Polish maniacs have created something that sounds like it is legitimately in league with the Lord of Darkness. Total excellence.
Denmark might not be as prolific in vomiting out metal bands as its Scandinavian brethren Sweden and Norway, but the country has always been about quality over quantity, and Cerekloth are no exception, delivering the first pure death metal album of 2013 to really tickle my fancy in the form of In the Midst of Life We are in Death (henceforth referred to as ITMOLWAID). Kidz, I can’t stress this one enough, if you dig traditional death metal, you need to spend some quality time with this pestilent platter.
Cerekloth play death metal of the slow and deliberate variety; even when they pick up the pace a little, the album still comes off like a crawling miasma of morbid malevolence sweeping over a mass grave. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it over and over again ’til I’m in the ground and rotting; death metal should sound like death, and death doesn’t sound like the clickety-clackety-ass pro-tools’ed-to-oblivion bullshit that gets passed off as death metal more often than anyone should care to admit (well, it might sound like that when a robot dies… hmmm…). ITMOLWAID sounds great, but the songwriting approach is such that the album drips with creepy atmosphere in spite of the crystal clear sonics. The classic death metal bands didn’t just write heavy, brutal music, they wrote music that was genuinely unsettling, with riffs and songs you could tell apart, and that’s exactly what Cerekloth have done here.
The album sticks to the fundamentals of death metal, but they are so well executed that Cerekloth are still a breath of fresh (fetid?) air amidst a death metal scene where Incantation and Entombed babies are multiplying like motherfucking gremlins. Indeed, these Danish overlords have the death metal debut album of the year on their hands, so whatever you do, don’t let In the Midst of Life We are in Death get buried under the avalanche of 2013 releases.
Another blackened blast of Australian bestiality, another member of Nocturnal Graves; Impious Baptism is the sole vision of vocalist/multi-instrumentalist J, and Wrath of the Apex Predator is the band’s debut full length after some demo and EP action. This is more raw and ugly sounding than either Nocturnal Graves or Denouncement Pyre, but still falls into that same realm of blackened death thrashing carnage that embodies the signature sound of metal from the land down under.
Once again, you probably already know what to expect from this one, a lot of high-speed riff-mongering and a lo-fi production scheme where the drums sound like the trash compactor in Star Wars and the guitars might trick you into thinking that someone in your general vicinity kicked a hornet’s nest. Wrath of the Apex Predator does occasionally put the breaks on and gives you a chance to breath with a trudging, doomy section or an ambient interlude, but for the most part Impious Baptism is all about hitting you over the head repeatedly with the almighty Aussie metal filth-hammer. Subtlety is not the band’s strong suit, but the album isn’t so OTT that you can’t tell what’s going on, which is often the make-or-break factor with this stuff.
Ultimately, Impious Baptism might be the least essential of the releases we’ve looked at so far, but at the same time it’s certainly no slouch, and fans of the Australian sound will no doubt eat this shit up. Nasty recording quality, some sickly buzzsaw riffs and plenty of passion go a long way with me.
Incantation. The real fucking deal. Accept no substitutes. Arguably one of the most influential bands in today’s metal scene gets the lavish vinyl reissue treatment for their fourth album Diabolical Conquest, which is generally considered to be one of the best in their entire catalog. I’m not exactly what you’d call a vinyl fetishist, but I do love me some Incantation, and the pictures of this over at the HHR website make it look like a pretty sweet package for all you turntable psychos to get your grubby paws on.
I really shouldn’t have to tell you what Incantation sounds like; I mean let’s face it, if you don’t know you’re probably a false and should not entry. I will however say that Diabolical Conquest is notable for featuring Daniel Corchado on guitar and vocals; you might know Mr. Corchado from The Chasm, one of the best death metal bands that ever existed. Pair him up with Incantation mastermind John McEntee and stalwart drummer Kyle Severn, and you’ve got a death metal super-group on your bloody hands that actually delivers.
Well, I reckon that wraps up our look at a plethora of recent releases from Hells Headbangers. They’re quickly becoming one of my all-time favorite labels and I can’t wait to see what other sacrilegious surprises they have in store for 2013 and beyond.