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Thursday 2 September 2021

Reviews: Beyond Grace, Wormwood, Embr, Lingua Ignota (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Paul Scoble, Richard Oliver & Alex Swift)

Beyond Grace - Our Kingdom Undone (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Having made the stellar move to Prosthetic Records, Nottingham Death Metaller Beyond Grace have moved swiftly to release their second full-length record and the first for their new label. Our Kingdom Undone follows the 2017 debut Seekers and whilst I’m unfamiliar with that record, Our Kingdom Undone is a fine piece of work. As a death metal band, there is always the option to simply cram your music full of walls of riffs and level whatever is in your way. There are of course, many other ways to bring the carnage and destruction and Beyond Grace do that with technicality, intricacy and an intensity that doesn’t release until the final bars of this 47-minute opus fade into the distance whilst at the same time providing an element of superiority in their delivery.

The songs contained in this brutally clenched metal fist were spawned over the past few years, so, given the current imbalance and unrest across the globe, it’s unsurprising that the band have focused on those areas as the inspiration for tracks like Hive Mind and Persona Non Grata. There are more than a few middle fingers to religion, isolation and exploitation, all subject matter that remains at the fore of many in the metal world’s angst. The musicianship is superb, with the dual guitar work of Tim Yearsley and Chris Morley weaving magically across the pounding bass of Andrew Workman and Ed Gorrod’s hammer assault on the kit. Standing majestically over all this chaos is vocalist Andy Walmsley, who has one of the gruffest death vocal deliveries I’ve heard for years. This is gnarly stuff.

There is always something about a band with ambition that sets them apart from their peers and the 12-minute title track which closes the album is Beyond Grace’s shining moment on an album full of blistering death metal. Our Kingdom Undone provides the band with the opportunity to explore and expand which they do with some style, switching from chugging riffs with thunderous blast beats to Meshuggah type breakdowns, through to a thrashier riff which sees the band accelerate at speed. It’s a brave but rewarding move, and similar to the band’s good friends Luna’s Call, the explorative style resonates. The title track is worth the cost of the album on its own. It’s another well worth checking out! 8/10

Wormwood - Arkivet (Black Lodge Records) [Paul Scoble]

Wormwood have been making music together since 2014. The band, who are based in Stockholm, Sweden, have made 2 albums and an EP before Arkivet; EP The Void: Stories From The Whispering Well in 2015, their first album Ghostlands: Wounds From A Bleeding Earth was released in 2017 and the band's second album; Nattarvet in 2019. The band, which features Nine on Vocals, Tobias Rydsheim on Lead Guitars, Keys and Vocals, Jerry Engström on Rhythm Guitars, Oskar Tornborg on Bass and Vocals and Daniel Johansson on Drums, have changed their sound during their career, originally playing Black ’N Roll, before morphing into Melodic Black Metal with Folk and Rock influences, how has the bands sound developed on this new album?

The albums title means Archive, so opening track The Archive is a title track of sorts. The track is a mix of mid-paced and very melodic Black Metal and faster, blasting Black Metal that is still filled with tunefulness. The track also has a very interesting middle section that is much softer and has a bluesy feel to it, in places this middle section that includes a solo, sounds like Dire Straits. Second track Overgrowth is again a mix of Mid-paced and very melodic Black Metal and faster, blasting Black Metal. The track has some nice atmospheric flourishes, as well as some very passionate and dramatic vocals, Nine’s bombastic bellowing is a standout feature of this album. Overgrowth is packed full of musicality and tunefulness with some fantastic tremolo picked riffs.

End Of Message juxtaposes softer Post Black Metal riffing with some very fast and frantic Black Metal blasting that, despite its savagery, is still very melodic. My Northern Heart is one of the high points of the album. The track has some Folk Metal elements and in places is more like Folk Rock than Black Metal. The track does have some Black Metal blasting, but this one is far more about the folky parts. The other standout part of this track is the beautifully melodic chorus which makes very good use of chanted vocals. Ensamheten continues the folky feel, but in a much darker way. The track is fairly slow, but is very purposeful and despite its slower pace it manages to be very powerful. The Violin is at the forefront of this track, which in places reminds me of Ihsahn's Hardingrock album.

Second to last track The Slow Drown is appropriately slow, tuneful and very melancholy. The first half has a Post Black Metal feel to it, but the track then takes a turn towards faster, flowing Black Metal in the second half. Arkivet comes to an end with the track The Gentle Touch Of Humanity. The track vacillates between blasting Black Metal and a slower, more brooding and dark style. The chorus is expansive and huge before returning to some savage blasting. The song has a softer section where the Dire Straits feel which we have met on earlier songs returns, before going into a section without music, that is made up of layered samples about the planets ecological collapse. After this section the track has a slower and more brooding style, that builds in intensity before taking the track, and the album to its end.

Arkivet is a cracking album. It is full of melody and tunefulness, whist still maintaining a savage Black Metal feel. The band have managed to make an album that is about the death of our natural world, that is also packed with energy, vitality and beauty (maybe that is the part of the world they are mourning?). The amount of melody and tunefulness is staggering, whilst still containing lots of brooding and dramatic energy. This is a brilliantly enjoyable album, highly recommended. 8/10

Embr - 1021 (New Heavy Sounds) [Richard Oliver]

As part of the New Heavy Sounds Records 10th Anniversary, the label is releasing a series of E.P.’s from bands on their roster. The second of these E.P.’s is from Birmingham, Alabama quartet Embr who state their ‘mission statement is to find the happy medium between both sonic worlds, to walk with one foot in somber density and the other in a place of blissful, uplifting tranquility.’ The band formed in 2015 and have three previous E.P.’s and one very well received full length album under their belts. They have a style that is very much rooted in doom metal but takes influence from many other genres with a sound that mixes moods and tempos. The 1021 E.P. is made up of three songs which very much showcase the range of the band. Opening song Vesuvius kicks off with high energy tempo and a mood that is very much on the positive side of things whilst being drivingly heavy. The tempo fluctuates throughout the song whilst never losing any of the intensity it started out with. 

Second song Born is a far doomier affair with a far slower tempo and far more sombre feel before picking up the page with some crushing riffage and a rhythm that demands headbanging before the third and final song A Grave For The Axe has a far sludgier sound with a killer opening riff and a far dirgier feel throughout. The vocals by Crystal Bigelow are a mix of soaring clean vocals and blood curdling screams and she flits effortlessly between the two styles with guitarist Mark Buchanan laying down some absolutely crushing riffs whilst the duo of bassist Alan Light and drummer Eric Bigelow provide the punishing low end and pummeling rhythms. 1021 may only be a very short E.P. but in the space of three songs it has given me a great idea of what this band is about and their range in sound and style. And I have to say I very much liked what I heard. There is plenty of variation in tone, pace and mood throughout the 15 minutes that make up this E.P. and if you like your doom, stoner and sludge metal sounds then give this band a listen. 8/10

Lingua Ignota – Sinner Get Ready (Sargent House) [Alex Swift]

“Are my sacrifice’s not extravagant” Kristin Hater sings on I Who Bend The Tall Grasses - a piece which if we are to take the song by its literal interpretation see’s our frontwoman begging, nay, pleading God to kill for her - “I don’t give a fuck, just kill him! You have to! I’m not asking” she growls in desperation in a presentation that speaks to the darkest and most sickening desires of human-kind. See, while her third album as Lingua Ignota see’s her dialling back raw aggression for a more subdued and haunting affair, the albums given a spine-tingling and intense quality by strings, organs, and chorale like vocals, making Sinner Get Ready a harrowing, albeit beautiful experience to sit through. The album itself and Hayter’s delivery gives the impression of a deranged sermon except rather than being here to spread the gospel, she’s here to expose the sin and debauchery within religion, cutting into concepts of morality and accepted wisdom in doing so. Her words and melodies descend like fire on those who call on their lord to punish those who they deem undeserving of a kingdom called paradise. “I am relentless, I am incessant, I am the ocean, and all who dare look upon me swear devotion” she sings against discordant pianos and the crashing of drums on opening piece, Order Of The Spiritual Virgins, setting the cathartic yet chilling tone of the album.

So committed was she to this concept that in making the record she moved from California to rural Pennsylvania, in close proximity to communities who follow the deeply fundamentalist and god-fearing interpretation of Christianity. In listening to this album, you can sense her vow to explore the dimmest and most evil aspects of human behaviour, just as her previous work has focussed deeply on the issue of abuse and trauma, particularly that which she’s experienced in her own life. The Sacred Liniment Of Judgement begins with a sample of the extremist evangelical preacher Jimmy Swaggart feigning tears as he pretends to express regret for sleeping with a sex worker. Meanwhile, Man Is Like A Spring Flower features a clip of that same sex worker decrying the preachers apology for getting caught, before the song swells into a cathartic crescendo of strings, synths, and flute. Later on, The Solitary Brethren Of Ephrata discusses being soaked in the blood of Christ as protection against diseases and infections – something churches in the Pennsylvania area have started to preach, faced with the pandemic.

These characters are portrayed with a kind of zealous madness yet also a deep desire for meaning – chaotic sections will often transition to moments of absolute beauty for that reason. On ferocious works like Repent Now, Confess Now Hayter’s voice is powerful enough to carry the bloodcurdling conviction of those who wilfully they damn others to hell. However, on most of these tracks her delivery is vulnerable enough to carry the sensation of feeling the need to cower at the concept of god, ever fearful that they could be the ones who will be punished. Pennsylvania Furnace sees her playing someone who knows they are doomed and casting judgement on those following the same path, frighteningly but sweetly crooning “Do you want to be in hell with me?”. There are many instances strewn throughout which utilise old instruments like a droning shruti box or a detuned banjo, emphasising an obsession with tradition.

One of the standout moments is Perpetual Flame Of Centralia – its exquisitely clever that for all of this albums portrayed religious devotion, it' also incredibly affecting, the exquisite compositions making the words resonate with a deep sense of poignancy to our own anxieties about death and whether our actions are the right ones. It’s fitting that Hayter ends the album not with a condemnation of religion or its adherents but with a subdued and cerebral ballad about yearning for eternal paradise and wondering if its something that even exists.

Indeed, I’m not the first person to point this out with regard to this album but one of the most moving moments in any artists musical career happened recently when Hayter had to have critical spinal surgery, which she couldn’t afford in the midst of a time when no artist was allowed to tour. In response, fans came forward on mass to donate. That’s not to mention the community of fans she’s amassed through her intense yet real stories of abuse and, vitally, survival. By writing an album which chastises the darkest desires of those who preach hate, while casting sympathy of those searching for meaning only to find that in the wrong place, Hayter has made an album which as well as being socially poignant, is also introspective and relevant to the lives of many. It’s an absolute triumph of storytelling and of emotion. 10/10

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